..The Intuitive Times
Naturopathic View



by Matt Targett

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Diabetes is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent conditions in North America. Factors such as poor diet and inactive lifestyles seem to be key factors in our society that lend themselves to this disease. Diabetes is a condition of faulty carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism which results in elevated blood sugar levels. Approximately 10% of diabetes patients suffer from type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes. This condition usually begins in childhood and is caused by a lack of insulin production from the Beta cells of the pancreas. The other type of diabetes is Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes. This condition usually affects people over the age of 40 and obesity is present in 90% of these individuals. For these people, insulin production is normal or elevated. However, cell sensitivity to the insulin is decreased, therefore it can not perform its job of telling cells to pick up sugar from the blood.

When blood sugar levels are not well maintained and stabilized, a variety of conditions and symptoms may arise. Some of the most immediate symptoms of untreated diabetes are increased thirst and urination, weight loss, disturbances in vision, and yeast vaginitis in women. Some more long term conditions associated with diabetes include diabetic neuropathy (especially of the feet), atherosclerosis or plaque formation in the arteries, elevated cholesterol, kidney disease, and damage to the retina and lens of the eyes.

Many of these conditions can be avoided or lessened in severity with strict control of ones blood sugar levels. Although this can be accomplished somewhat through the use of insulin and hypo-glycemic agents (medications), the most effective approach is to look at the entire lifestyle of the patient and make necessary changes. Perhaps the most important area to make adjustments in is the diet. The key is to avoid foods which will cause sharp rises in blood sugars. These include refined sugars and refined carbohydrates like processed flours and saturated fats. What we need to increase in the diet are foods which are converted slowly into sugars or those which are digested at a slower more constant rate. These include foods high in fiber and complex carbohydrates like beans, legumes and whole grains. Fructose or fruit sugar is also better than refined sugars as it does not need to be broken down through additional processes in the liver before it becomes glucose.

Another useful practice is to "graze" or eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three large ones. This allows our bodies to utilize food at a more even rate. Another key issue which needs to be addressed in the diabetic individual is maintaining proper weight. It is a fact that an obese person will have increased insulin production. This is not to our benefit as it will cause the insulin receptors on our fat and muscle cells to become less sensitive to insulin, the very problem we are trying to avoid. It is therefore of utmost importance that diabetics try to achieve a healthy weight. This is best done through gradual weight loss from adjustments in diet and a more active lifestyle.

We also know for a fact that physical activity alone greatly regulates our blood sugars and often decreases our need for medications by making our cells more sensitive to insulin. The best way to develop a diet and activity regiment that would be best suited to yourself would be to consult your physician or naturopath and determine what types of professional support you would most benefit from.

When supplementing the diet of the diabetic, we want to help control the blood sugars, but we also want to keep in mind other conditions that may need to be addressed concurrently such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Chromium is perhaps the best place to start as it increases our glucose tolerance, decreases cholesterol and decreases our fasting glucose levels. Vitamin C, biotin and magnesium are just a few of the others we may use with the diabetic patient to aid in carbohydrate metabolism and maintaining nerve function. Anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E and grapeseed extract are also important to help prevent free radical damage that the diabetic may be more susceptible to.

There are many plants which are also very helpful in treating diabetes. Onions, garlic, bitter melon, Jerusalem artichoke, fenugreek and Gymnema sylvestre are all proven regulators of blood sugars which can all be used very safely. Bilberry and ginko are also commonly used to help maintain circulatory and ocular health. Diabetes is a serious condition, but fortunately it is one that can be controlled to a tremendous degree by lifestyle and diet. If you think you may be experiencing any of the early signs of this condition it is important that you speak with your physician or naturopath so that early preventative and management steps can be taken.

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