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June 10, 2005 09:37 PM
Diabetes by , February 5, 2002
Lack of exercise and being overweight boosts your chances of developing diabetes. So, as America's epidemic of obesity grows, the number of people afflicted with the condition called type II diabetes is expected to soar. If you follow the typical US pattern of not getting enough exercise while indulging in a diet of too many calories from cookies, cakes, fast food and saturated fat as your waistline gradually expands, your chances of encountering this health Menace grow every day. According to the most recent estimate by health researchers, "more than half of all US adults are considered overweight or obese"(JAMA, 10/27/99).
Those same researchers, who examined the health history and weights of more than 16,000 Americans, confirmed a fact well-understood by health practitioners who understand the chemistry of blood sugar: being overweight greatly increases your chances of not only diabetes but also high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, coronary heart disease, high cholesterol and arthritis. (If you suffer or think you suffer from diabetes, or any of these conditions, consult a knowledgeable health practitioner.)
While Type I diabetes is a relatively infrequent disease that often strikes kids, Type II diabetes is a much more widespread (and increasing) health problem experienced by 9 out of 10 adults with what is now called adult-onset diabetes.
The popular image of someone with diabetes is, ironically, often of someone who is suffering with Type I. In simplistic terms, Type I diabetes occurs when your pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone-like substance that, among its several tasks, helps deliver sugar from the bloodstream into the body's cells. When your body is functioning normally, insulin helps steady blood sugar levels and keeps tissues fed with nutrients.
People with Type I diabetes often have to inject themselves with insulin. Otherwise, a lack of insulin causes dangerously increased blood sugar levels, cellular damage to blood vessels and nerves plus a high risk of heart attack, blindness, kidney failure and serious damage to your extremities that may, in the long-term, lead to amputation.
On the other hand, someone beginning to suffer Type II diabetes usually has plenty of insulin being produced by the pancreas, but may be insulin resistant: for a variety of physiological reasons, the hormone is unable to do its job. That allows blood glucose to reach levels where it can wreak metabolic havoc.
When you gain weight, drastically increase the amount of your bodyfat and lead a sedentary, couch potato existence without engaging in very much exercise, you boost your risk of becoming insulin resistant. Consequently you also boost the chances of eventually suffering Type II diabetes.
However, a consistent exercise program (and losing weight) can alleviate or moderate some of the blood sugar problems brought on by diabetes or insulin resistance. When you exercise, your working muscles may take in more glucose from the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar level. That is one reason physical exercise helps to modify your body's response to blood sugar. (Of course, if you have diabetes or have not exercised in a long time, be sure to consult your health practitioner before engaging in strenuous physical activity.)
One of the most useful supplements employed to help control diabetes is chromium, a mineral that plays an integral role in the body's metabolism of sugar.
In the Natural Health Bible, Steven Bratman, MD, and David Kroll, PhD, discuss a study in China of 180 people with Type II diabetes. In that study, those who took chromium enjoyed better blood sugar levels than the people who took no supplements (Diabetes 46(11): 1786-1791, 1997). In addition, a double-blind study of chromium found that the supplement could reduce the necessary oral medication by more than half in many cases (Harefuah 125(5-6): 142-145, 1993). In this study, women seemed to benefit from chromium more than men.
Relief with Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant nutrient, helps defend nerve cells against painful damage-a condition called neuropathy-that can result from diabetes. Consequently, in Germany, doctors have been prescribing lipoic acid to people with diabetes for more than two decades.
According to Dr. Bratman and Dr. Kroll, studies show that lipoic acid may be particularly helpful when taken with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid found in evening primrose oil and borage oil. Studies of GLA have found that this fat can soothe numbness and pain and slow nerve injuries (Diabetes Care 16(1):8-15, 1993).
Taken together, GLA and lipoic acid may synergistically improve nerve function (Diabetologia 41(4): 390-399, 1998). Blood sugar control may also improve.
Two signs that you may be suffering diabetes are excessive thirst and a dry mouth. This missing liquid, especially in the mouth when the flow of saliva slows, can lead to a lack of lactoferrin, a naturally-occurring protein that fights infection in the mouth by binding iron (Jrnl of Diab Comp 7, 57-62).
Lactoferrin's iron-binding ability destroys harmful micro-organisms like bacteria. In addition, lactoferrin stimulates the body's production of a substance called secretory IgA, which keeps disease-causing organisms out of the body and helps stabilize blood sugar (colostrum also produces this effect).
Fenugreek, a spice, has had long use as a medicine and food ingredient in the Middle East and Asia. And now modern science has begun to accumulate evidence supporting its traditional use: Several studies have shown that this seed can benefit blood sugar levels and keep blood cholesterol down.
In laboratory animals, researchers found that fenugreek kept blood sugar levels under control and also increased HDL (good cholesterol) while dropping triglycerides, blood fats that increase the risk of heart disease (Eur Jrnl Clin Nut 44 (1990):301-306).
Fortuitously, studies on people have supported fenugreek's benefits. In people with Type I diabetes, studies show that fasting blood sugar levels were reduced and glucose tolerance tests (measures of how well the body handles sugar) were closer to normal (Eur Jrnl Clin Nut 42 (1988):51-54). Bilberry for Eye Health
Retinopathy, eye damage resulting from diabetes, is a serious complication of this disease and can cause blindness. Bilberry, a botanical that has been used as a folk treatment for eye health for centuries, may be able to lower the risk of this kind of vision destruction.
Bilberry, a dark berry that grows in Europe, has been shown in a collection of laboratory tests to hold down blood sugar levels (Quart Jrnl Cr Drug Res 17(1979):139-196). Bilberry has traditionally been used to protect eyesight.
According to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima), natural substances called flavonoids, found in bilberry, "have been shown to increase intracellular vitamin C levels, decrease the leakiness and breakage of small blood vessels, prevent easy bruising and exert potent antioxidant effects."
Apparently, the body uses these flavonoids to protect the eyes' blood vessels and to keep the retina (central part of the eye crucial to preserving sight) functioning normally (Arch Med Int 37 (1985):29-35). Consequently, bilberry has been used by health practitioners in France to treat diabetic retinopathy ever since the 1940s.
As medical researchers look more closely into how insulin functions throughout the body, much more light will be thrown on how supplemental nutrients and your diet interact to promote the healthiest blood sugar levels.
But, today, what we already know about how the body functions can help you: a low-fat, high fiber diet, moderate, consistent exercise and healthy doses of insulin-friendly supplements may help keep your blood sugar under control.
And keep those pounds from accumulating around your waist. That way, you can keep from singing that nasty old, down and dirty, blood sugar, syncopated ragtime blues.