About 120 000 Australians and 150 000 New Zealanders suffer from diabetes. Herbs and nutritional supplements can complement conventional medical treatment and help to prevent some of the complications of this chronic but manageable disease.
What is it?
A person with diabetes doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin or is unable to use it effectively, which causes high blood sugar (glucose) levels. Over time, this imbalance can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss and various other complications. There are two types of diabetes. Less common is insulin dependent diabetes (type 1), which usually develops before the age of 30. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes (type 2) accounts for 90% of cases; it usually appears after the age of 40.
What causes it?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. No one knows exactly why this happens, but some experts believe that a virus or an autoimmune response, in which the body attacks its own pancreatic cells, is responsible. People with this type of diabetes must take insulin for life. Type 2 diabetes develops from insulin resistance. With this condition, the pancreas secretes plenty of insulin, but the body's cells don't respond to it. Obesity plays a major role in most cases of type 2 diabetes. Genetic factors, however, can contribute to the onset of both types.
What are the symptoms?
- Excessive thirst.
- Frequent and excessive urination.
- Extreme fatigue and weakness.
- Unintentional weight loss.
- Slow healing of cuts and wounds.
- Recurring infections, such as urinary tract infections or vaginal yeast infections.
- Blurred vision.
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
Are there any natural therapies?
All the supplements listed can be used along with prescription drugs and by people with both types of diabetes. Taking some supplements may require altering dosages of insulin or the hypoglycaemic drugs used for type 2 diabetes. Dosage changes must be supervised by your doctor.
The B vitaminshelp to produce enzymes that convert glucose to energy, and may also help to prevent diabetic nerve damage. The mineral chromium lowers blood glucose and reduces cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Gymnema sylvestre, a herb from India, improves blood sugar control, sometimes reducing the need for insulin or hypolycaemic medication.
Essential fatty acids protect against nerve damage and keep arteries supple. Fish oils, in particular, may rise 'good' HDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. Antioxidants prevent damage to the nerves, eyes and heart as well. Vitamin E may block the buildup of plaque; alphalipoic acid improves glucose metabolism. Many people with diabetes have low levels of zinc, which helps the body to use insulin and promotes healing (a function impaired by high glucose levels). Long-term zinc use may require extra copper. The herb bilberry helps to prevent diabetic eye damage, and the amino acid taurine aids in the release in insulin and can prevent abnormal blood clotting, a factor in heart disease. New studies suggest that magnesium may play a role in diabetes as well.
What else can I do?
- Exercise regularly. Those who burn more than 15 000 kilojoules a weeks through exercise are half as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as those burning fewer than 2000 kilojoules. People with type 1 diabetes can benefit from exercise, too.
- Lose weight. Beign overweight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
- Eat whole grains, fruit and vegetables to keep blood sugar in check.
Did you know?
People with diabetes may find it beneficial to add soy foods to their diet. These products – including tofu, soy protein, soy milk and soy flour – may improve glucose control, protect against heart disease and lessen the stress on the kidneys.
Only You Can Prevent Diabetes!
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can't properly utilise the insulin it produces to regulate blood sugar, preventing your body from getting the fuel it needs. This type of diabetes is the most common, and usually develops gradually after age 40. Symptoms include excess thirst, urination, fatigue, and weight loss.
Dietary and lifestyle factors are known to heavily influence the development of type 2 diabetes, prompting the authors of a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine to determine the proportion of cases of type 2 that could be avoided through low-risk behavior. Nearly 85,000 women completed questinnaires and were examined over 16 years of follow-up. The authors defined five variables of low-risk women: a healthy weight-to-height ratio; a diet high in cereal fibre/"healthy' fat and low in "unhealthy" fat/simple sugars; a half-hour or more of moderate exercise; nonsmoking; andconsumption of some alcohol.
Recent research has shown that an abnormal response to wheat proteins found in bread, pasta and cereals may be a major cause of type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes affects an estimated 25 million people worldwide, and requires regular insulin injections to control the disease. There is no known cure, but this research trial offers a promising insight into how this devastating disease can be prevented with simple dietary modifications.
We know that fish is really good for you – with the omega-3 fatty acids, protein and nutrients – we should all be eating more of it. However, a new study has revealed some extraordinary results about our fishy friends.
The new study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that a diet rich in fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids can help to cut the risk of diabetes in children, even with a family history of this condition.
A recent study has revealed some key benefits of vitamin D intake for the heart health of diabetics. The study, performed in 2009, aimed to find the mechanism by which vitamin D deficiency increases cardiovascular disease in patients.
Diabetes affects over 240 million people worldwide, and diabetics are up to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. The risk of mortality is up to 40 times greater in those with diabetes – however as seen in this new study, a little sunshine everyday can make all the difference.