Natural Approaches to Type 2 Diabetes
Understanding Your Body
As of 2020 the CDC estimates that 34.2 million Americans suffer from Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes which accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases, is associated with excessive body fat and obesity. Genetics also play an important role in the development of type 2 diabetes, but the most influential and powerful factor is lifestyle.
Two Natural Ways to Regulate Blood Sugar
Regular exercise and a proper diet can dramatically alter the course of type 2 diabetes by changing how the body relates to blood sugar and insulin. As a person gains more weight, particularly around the abdomen, fat tissue begins to infiltrate the vital organs such as the liver and the pancreas. As this process progresses, chemical signals are produced that prevent our cells from responding to an important hormone called insulin.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is what is responsible for helping to transfer the sugar in our blood (derived from the food we eat and our body’s own sugar manufacturing system) into our cells where it can be used to make and store energy. The end result is a state referred to as insulin resistance; this is when the cells no longer respond to insulin so the sugar is stuck in the blood.
Continuously elevated blood sugar levels will eventually cause severe damage to the blood vessels, kidneys and eyes, ultimately leading to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and poor circulation to the hands and feet.
To understand this process further we need a deeper understanding of how insulin works and why our bodies become resistant to it in the first place.
Diet and Insulin
Insulin was designed to help our bodies store energy, mainly as fat. The release of insulin is primarily triggered by the ingestion of foods that have a high glycemic index. This means that these foods are broken down into glucose at very fast rates. Some examples are white bread, pasta, candy, soft drinks and pastries. Eating diets high in simple carbohydrates (high glycemic foods) will signal the release of high amounts of insulin which will in turn trigger the storage of all that glucose as fat. This is why low carbohydrate diets help us loose weight. When we eliminate the high glycemic foods we limit the amount of insulin produced and our body limits the fat storage process.
Human History and Sugar Level
This system was first designed to help humans withstand times of famine. When food was plenty, or when we ingested something with a lot of sugar like honey, our bodies knew we could not burn all that energy at once. So it developed a mechanism to store that energy for a later time, as fat. Well now we live in a society of abundance and luckily most of us are not faced with the challenges of famine anymore.
We consume so many excess calories in the form of high glycemic foods. Our body needs to keep packing on the pounds of fat to store it all somewhere. Our body still thinks there may be a famine. As we gain more weight, particularly in the abdomen the fat actually starts to infiltrate the organs. This serves as a powerful signal to the body that it certainly does not need to store any more energy. But instead of decreasing the insulin response as a way of dealing with this, the body signals the cells to become resistant to the effects of insulin. The more resistant the cells become the more insulin that will be produced and a vicious cycle begins.
Have you ever heard that Native Americans are at a much higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes? It is true, and the reason is because their heritage is one characterized by extreme times of abundance and then famine. Due to this, their bodies became extremely sensitive to high glycemic foods and are very efficient at storing energy using insulin. When they eat a diet so rich in calories and abundant in sugar (like that of the standard American Diet) their highly sensitive systems go into storage overdrive and they ultimately end up in insulin resistance much quicker than people with other heritages not characterized by feast or famine.
Body Fat and Diabetes
As I discussed in part 1 of this series the process of type II diabetes is significantly influenced by the amount of body fat a person has, particularly fat around the abdominal area. Lifestyle modification in the way of diet and exercise are crucial factors for addressing type II diabetes. They must be present to achieve success if one is attempting to use a natural approach. The rest of Part 2 will outline Diet, Exercise and supplement strategies to help the body naturally control and reverse this condition.
*As a side note, it is very important to mention that all people with type II diabetes should be monitored by a physician. Regular blood tests and physical exams are needed to ensure that a person’s condition is under control and that irreversible damage is not being done to the system. The following are important tests to have done regularly (every 3-6 months) until the condition is under control:
- Glycosylated Hemoglobin
- Fasting Blood Sugar
- Kidney Function Tests
- Eye Exams
- Cardiovascular Health (blood pressure & cholesterol)
- Evaluation of Peripheral Circulation and Nerve Function
Diet and Type 2 Diabetes
The most important thing for a type 2 diabetic to focus on in the diet is eliminating all high glycemic foods. If you remember from part 1 of the series, high glycemic foods break down into glucose in the blood very quickly. This in turn causes an excess release of insulin which signals fat storage. The stimulation of this cycle over and over again from the repeated consumption of high glycemic foods leads to the process of cells becoming resistant to insulin. The primary focus of the diet should be on low glycemic foods such as lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish, wild game) and vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, spinach, chard, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, butternut squash, yellow squash, green beans etc.). Some vegetables, such as carrots and beets, tend to have a higher glycemic index and should be consumed in moderation. Generally speaking, if the vegetable grows below ground it is more likely to have a higher glycemic index.
There is another factor called the Glycemic Load that is important to consider when determining the best type of food for a type II diabetic. The glycemic load takes into account the glycemic index and overall provides us with a much more accurate assessment of how food affects our blood sugar levels. The glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the amount of carbohydrate in a serving of food by that particular food’s glycemic index. This number is then divided by 100. The higher the glycemic load, the greater the stress on insulin. The Appendix has a table of foods ranked according to their glycemic index and glycemic load.
Eliminating these foods entirely is not an easy thing to do, but if someone is serious about making a significant impact on this condition it is well worth the effort. For those people not ready to make an extreme commitment, start implementing some of the ideas slowly and one at a time. For example, commit to eating bread products only 2x per week. Or cut out the cake and cookies you may normally eat at the office. These small changes may not be enough to have huge impacts on your condition, but can help you get in the right frame of mind to make larger, more significant changes in the future.
Exercise is an essential piece of treating type II diabetes naturally because not only does it foster weight loss but it also can directly affect the cells sensitivity to insulin. Losing weight, particularly around the abdominal area, starts reversing the signals that trigger cells to become resistant to insulin in the first place. For weight loss to occur, it is important to focus on both weight training (anaerobic) and cardiovascular (aerobic) activity.