This article was first published in Delicious Living!, August 2001.
One of the fastest growing diseases is something most people don't think much about: type II diabetes. Long known as "adult-onset diabetes," it's a condition in which the body's ability to use carbohydrates is impaired by inefficient insulin function. Characterized by abnormally high blood sugar and insulin levels, type II diabetes greatly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, blindness, nerve disorders, kidney disease, cancer, and, in men, impotence. It is, in the minds of many scientists, an example of accelerated aging.
Not too long ago this disease of aging only affected people in later years, but that situation has changed dramatically. Today type II diabetes has ballooned into an epidemic that now afflicts all age groups, including children as young as 10 years old!
The statistics certainly show that it's no longer a disease that should be considered out of sight and out of mind. Between 1990 and 1998, the overall incidence of diabetes among Americans increased by 33 percent. Among people in their 30s, the incidence jumped by an astounding 70 percent! (Diabetes Care, 2000, vol. 23).
What's more, many people who don't yet have diabetes are on the fast track to developing it. Being overweight is a major predisposing factor for type II diabetes and the Center for Disease Control estimates that 61 percent of Americans are now overweight and 27 percent are clinically obese. Weight around the middle is an especially bad sign, as are frequent thirst and frequent urination. In addition, heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides (a cluster of symptoms collectively known as Syndrome X), are warning signs that a person is at serious risk for diabetes.
Some of the earliest signs of prediabetes are fatigue, sleepiness after meals, sugar cravings and difficulty concentrating.
The common root problem in type II diabetes and in prediabetic conditions is insulin resistance. As my co-authors and I explain in our book Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), insulin resistance develops slowly, primarily from a diet high in carbohydrates, especially sweets, breads, and flour -- and sugar-based snack foods. The more these blood-sugar-raising foods are eaten, the more the pancreas pumps out the hormone insulin, which shuttles glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. In time, though, the cells become resistant to the effects of so much insulin, and blood sugar levels eventually start to creep up into ranges that are considered diabetic.
Is there any good news? Absolutely. "Type II diabetes is a nutritional disease with a nutritional cure," says C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., author of Diabetes: Prevention and Cure (Kensington). "No one need suffer from this disease unless he or she chooses to do so."
The type of diet that offers protection against type II diabetes is a protein-rich, low-carbohydrate plan in which the carbohydrates come primarily from non-starchy vegetables such as salad greens, green beans, asparagus, celery and broccoli. This is a modern version of our evolutionary diet-the diet our distant ancestors ate and the diet we are most genetically adapted to. Eating this type of diet and using supportive supplements shouldn't be considered alternative medicine but rather the treatments of choice for type II diabetes, Broadhurst says.
The diet should also be rich in good fats, such as monounsaturated fats in olive oil and omega-3 fats in coldwater fish and fish oil, says Ron Rosedale, M.D., who nutritionally treats diabetics on a routine basis at the Colorado Center for Metabolic Medicine in Boulder. Although considered taboo by many people, good fats really should be considered essential medicine for diabetics because they improve insulin sensitivity and don't raise insulin levels.
Physical activity, adequate sleep and stress reduction through various means can be helpful adjuncts to nutritional treatment. Physical activity directly improves diabetes while stress reduction lowers cortisol levels, which in turn should lower insulin levels.
"Massage might be particularly helpful because it helps to increase circulation, which in turn should help improve insulin sensitivity," Rosedale says. "But anything that reduces stress should be beneficial."
Changing the diet is the most important factor for protection against diabetes.
- Emphasize fiber-rich, low-carbohydrate vegetables and adequate protein from lean, unprocessed protein sources such as omega-3-enriched eggs, poultry and fish to lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Vegetarians need to be careful to keep the carbohydrate content of their diet low by minimizing grains and beans and by using eggs, dairy foods, soy foods and protein powders as their primary protein sources.
- Completely eliminate sugars, refined grains, fried foods, foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils and omega-6-rich oils such as corn oil, soybean oil and safflower oil. These foods are prime contributors to insulin resistance.
- Eat omega-3-rich coldwater fish such as salmon, halibut and trout at least three times a week, use ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil on salads, and eat a lot of greens. An omega-3-rich diet helps reverse insulin resistance. Consider supplementation if you don't eat many of these foods.
- Use olive oil as the primary fat in your diet and include other sources of monounsaturated fats such as avocados and almonds. Substituting monounsaturated fats for carbohydrates improves insulin sensitivity.
- Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices and alcohol, which wreak havoc with blood sugar and insulin control. Instead, opt for lots of filtered or bottled water, in addition to sparkling water, herbal teas, black tea and green tea.
- Consider identifying hidden food allergies with an IgG ELISA food allergy blood test, especially if other nutritional strategies don't work. Food allergies may contribute to type II diabetes
Some supplements are so effective at improving insulin function that diabetics who take medications to control blood sugar need to work with their physicians to have their medications adjusted and often eliminated after they begin taking supplements.
- To cover all the bases, supplement with a good multivitamin/multimineral such as a multiple specifically designed for diabetics. It should include at least 15-25 mg zinc.
- Chromium picolinate 200-400 mcg daily as a preventive dose to improve insulin function. Up to 1,000 mcg daily to help reverse type II diabetes.
- To quench excess free radicals and protect against heart disease, take a balanced antioxidant formula that has 400 IU natural vitamin E and 200 mcg selenium. Also take supplemental vitamin C so your intake is at least 500 to 1,000 mg per day.
- Take 400-600 mg magnesium in divided doses to improve insulin response and action.
- Add alpha-lipoic acid, a fat-soluble and water-soluble antioxidant that improves blood sugar and insulin levels. 50-100 mg is a preventive dose. For diabetics, especially those with diabetic neuropathy (nerve pain, tingling or loss of sensation), take up to 600 mg daily of alpha-lipoic acid, along with 400 mg gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
Medicinal herbs contain substances that are therapeutic in function, so it's best to use only one or two herbs at a time. Feel free to use culinary herbs freely, though.
- Silymarin, the active ingredient in the liver-enhancing herb milk thistle, acts as a powerful antioxidant, lowers insulin levels and greatly improves blood sugar control. If you're a diabetic, use 200-600 mg silymarin daily, depending on the other supplements you're taking.
- American ginseng, an adaptogen, has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. Try 3 grams ground ginseng root if you're diabetic or 1-2 grams for prevention.
- To lower blood sugar levels, start with 2 capsules per day of standardized or freeze-dried bitter melon or 5-10 grams fenugreek extract.
- As a complement to other herbal and nutritional treatments, use a lot of garlic in food preparation, especially if you have high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure or other heart disease risk factors.
- To help lower blood sugar, sprinkle ground cinnamon liberally on foods and spice up your diet with lots of herbs and spices. In addition to cinnamon, other culinary herbs and spices that show promise for treating type II diabetes, based on animal studies, include: cloves, bay leaf, cumin, reishi mushroom, coriander and sage.
- Be as physically active as possible. The more you move your muscles, the more efficiently insulin works to keep blood sugar levels in normal ranges. Choose activity you like to do so that you keep it up.
- If you haven't exercised in a while, start with short daily walks through interesting areas and gradually increase your time. Also try to vary your activities with fun things, such as dancing, bicycle riding, swimming, water aerobics or gardening.
- Consider trying a type of training called Super Slow in which weights are lifted and lowered very slowly. It has very little risk of injury.
- As an adjunct to nutritional treatment, try reducing stress through various means -- doing anything from joining a support group to doing tai chi or yoga. Massage might be of special benefit because it improves circulation. Stress raises cortisol levels, which raises insulin levels. Managing stress effectively, therefore, should improve insulin function.
Sources: Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance (John Wiley & Sons) by Jack Challem, Burton Berkson, M.D., and Melissa Diane Smith; Diabetes: Prevention and Cure (Kensington) by C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D.
This information has been reprinted with permission from New Hope Natural Media, a division of Penton Media. © Copyright 2001 by Penton Media. To find out about Delicious Living! magazine, visit its website at www.healthwell.com.