Our bodies evolved by developing sophisticated mechanisms that help us adapt to changes in diet, lifestyle and the environment. But what happens when too many negative influences impact our health all at once?
Unhealthy foods, an overload of environmental toxins and a sedentary lifestyle can challenge our health so overwhelmingly, the body can’t adapt well enough. Our complex biological mechanisms can start to misfire, and we have trouble maintaining the biochemical balance needed for optimal health. As a result, a number of chronic illnesses can start to develop. Diabetes is a classic example.
I’ll explain the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes in just a moment. But first, let’s take a look at the main problem in both types of diabetes: how your body responds to food.
Pancreas problems at the heart of type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Normally, when we eat, cells in our pancreas (beta cells) detect glucose (blood sugar) and release insulin, which tells other cells to ingest the glucose from the blood. This provides energy for cells and keeps circulating blood sugar at healthy levels. An overabundance of sugar in the bloodstream damages blood vessels and wreaks havoc on organs and tissues, potentially leading to eye problems, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and many other serious conditions.
People develop diabetes when their bodies lose the ability to properly handle blood sugar. In type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile diabetes, an autoimmune response destroys pancreatic beta cells, though we don’t entirely understand why. However, as a result, insulin is no longer released, cells don’t get the message to take in glucose and blood sugar accumulates to toxic levels. Type 1 diabetes was generally fatal until injectable insulin was developed.
Type 2 diabetes is a bit more complicated. Cells gradually lose their ability to respond to insulin, causing toxic levels of glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream. This gradual loss can be caused by age, obesity or other issues such as overconsumption of high-sugar foods.
As blood sugar accumulates, pancreatic cells have to work harder to produce more insulin. The condition gradually escalates: Cells become more insulin-resistant; glucose accumulates in the bloodstream; and the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate. Eventually, pancreatic beta cells burn out and the condition can become more like type 1 diabetes, in which no insulin is produced at all.
Watch for these type 2 diabetes early warning signs
So far, there’s not much that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a different story. It takes a long time to develop type 2 diabetes and it’s often preceded by a condition called metabolic syndrome, which comes with a laundry list of warning symptoms:
- Excess belly fat.
- Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and too little good cholesterol (HDL).
- High blood pressure.
- Excessive blood clotting and poor circulation.
- Initial insulin resistance.
- Elevated fasting blood glucose.
If many of these warning signs look familiar, it’s because they are also associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome’s close-knit relative. However, these conditions are controllable and even reversible, with a healthy diet, supplementation and lifestyle changes.
Head off blood-sugar problems with this simple one-two punch
Perhaps the greatest contributor to metabolic syndrome, and ultimately type 2 diabetes, is being overweight. Multiple studies have made the connection between excess weight and poor sugar metabolism, especially belly fat around your midsection.
This type of vat, visceral fat, is the most dangerous type of fat. It surrounds your inner organs and can be a big contributor to metabolic dysfunction. In this case, the age-old approach may be the best at fighting the disease: Increase activity and emphasize a healthy diet.
- fresh vegetables,
- minimal fruits (berries are excellent choices with their high antioxidant content),
- lean protein,
- extra fiber,
- sprouted grains and legumes,
- and healthy fats, including nuts, seeds and avocados.
For people with concerns about diabetes, metabolic syndrome or weight, it’s critical to choose low-sugar foods that are low on the glycemic index. This index measures the amount of time specific foods take to break down into glucose. The faster they’re metabolized, the quicker blood sugar ticks up — something you want to avoid.
Find foods that are low on the glycemic index scale and won’t cause blood sugar to spike and crash. Good choices include high-fiber vegetables, sprouted whole grains and legumes and lean protein. Avoid foods like sugary cereals, high-sugar fruits, white enriched pastas or bread and white potatoes.
Many studies support this approach. When people eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, they cut their risk of diabetes in half. In our view, this is the smartest approach and requires no medication. And it’s important to recognize that exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon. Simply walking 30 minutes a day has been shown to provide remarkable improvements in metabolic, cardiovascular and overall health.
Elevated stress can lead to spikes in insulin production
Even with a healthy diet and regular exercise, however, our relationship with insulin is still somewhat complicated. While excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, so can mental and emotional stress, as well as environmental toxins and other factors that increase oxidative stress in the body.
Again, studies have shown that elevated stress can lead to spikes in insulin production, which can also cause insulin resistance. In addition, stress causes your cortisol levels to shoot up, which in turn elevates your blood sugar.
Embrace methods to fight stress. Exercise, yoga, Tai Chi and meditation are all effective. Find the mode that works best for you and practice diligently.
Beat blood sugar problems with botanicals
Traditional Asian medicine is an abundant source of powerful herbal remedies that can help address diabetes and metabolic syndrome from many angles.
Here are a few examples:
Fenugreek seeds contain fiber and protein and are shown to help control glucose levels. The potent botanical slows carbohydrate absorption and balances production. Studies show that patients have improved blood sugar control and lower triglyceride levels.
Holy basil may support beta cell function and has shown positive results for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Gynnema aan improve insulin release and glucose absorption, as well as support beta cell growth. Studies show that patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes experience benefits with gymnema leaf extract.
I typically recommend a comprehensive metabolic formula to address diabetes and metabolic syndrome. One that blends a number of Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs, medicinal mushrooms and nutrients to support beta cell function, glucose balance, insulin sensitivity, circulation and antioxidant activity is best.
Even though the number of people with these conditions continues to increase, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are treatable. And by addressing them with natural solutions and a back to basics approach you can not only tackle your blood sugar problems but reap t numerous other health benefits in the process.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980's, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.
Since 1991 Dr. Eliaz has maintained a busy private practice in northern California that focuses primarily on integrative, holistic protocols for cancer patients. He leads an integrative medical team at Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, California with focus on cancer and other chronic ailments.
To learn more, please visit www.dreliaz.org.
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