BotanicalsHealthy Aging

Defeating Diabetes: Keeping Your Sugars in Check Through the Holidays

Diet, exercise, and supplements to keep sugars in check today, tomorrow, and through the holiday season

Type-2 diabetes (T2DM), or insulin-resistant diabetes, is all too common in many modern societies. With countless food choices at our disposal, and with occupations and lifestyles that keep us sedentary, it isn’t surprising. The cost of food also plays a role, as the food industry churns out inexpensive products that are rich in calories but poor in nutrients, while nutritious foods are often more expensive. Subclinical nutritional deficiencies are increasing, and with this, waistlines and blood sugar levels are going up as well. Increases in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are all associated with consumption of cheaper, subsidized commodity-based foods.[1],[2]

Subclinical nutritional deficiencies are increasing, and with this, waistlines and blood sugar levels are going up as well.

Thankfully, there are simple choices we can make on a daily basis to prevent and manage diabetes and its related complications. Such proven strategies include lifestyle changes (healthy diet, exercise, smoking cessation), blood sugar management, regular exams for early detection of complications, and, when necessary, medications to control hyperglycemia and cardiovascular risk. A variety of nutritional supplements have been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, as discussed below.

Dietary choices influence diabetes risk

Dietary choices that support blood sugar balance include minimizing foods with a high glycemic index (such as pasta, breads, baked goods, and sugars) and focusing the diet on nutrient-dense foods that are higher in protein, fiber, and healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut, and avocado. Simple habits to maintain normal blood sugar levels include filling your plate with healthy foods before finding room for simple carbohydrate sides and enjoying fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth rather than a pastry or ice cream.

Blueberries are a food with healthful benefits for diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease.

Fiber-rich foods including vegetables, whole fruit (not canned, dehydrated, or juiced), and whole grains help lower blood sugar and prevent diabetes.[3],[4] Blueberries are a food with healthful benefits for diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease.[5],[6] Healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut, avocado, and heart-healthy fish (omega-3 fatty acids) are also important. Selecting grass-fed (vs. corn-fed) beef and free-range eggs (over caged) also boosts the nutrient content of these foods.[7],[8]

Exercise helps stave off diabetes

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and helps regulate blood sugar, weight, and even mood. Walking 11.3 miles (18.2 km) per week may be as effective as a combination of dietary modification, weight loss, and exercise at preventing progression of pre-diabetes into diabetes.[9]

During the holidays, there is no reason to save your fitness or health club resolution until the new year. Many fitness clubs experience a slump prior to this time and may have pre-New Year’s Day membership specials. They also are much better suited to accommodate your needs prior to the New Year when only a single poorly-functioning exercise bike can be found! Try and find a form of exercise you like; while some may enjoy the movement and time to think while running or cycling, others may be much happier in a group dance or fitness class setting. Find what is right for you, make a commitment to yourself and maybe a friend, and get moving!

Supplements help support glucose metabolism

A variety of nutritional supplements have been studied for modulating blood sugar levels and reducing insulin resistance. Lipoic acid is an antioxidant that improves insulin sensitivity,[10] reduces the risk of diabetic neuropathy,[11] and also may support weight loss goals if this is an issue.[12] The minerals chromium and vanadium, along with the B vitamin biotin, all play a role in blood sugar homeostasis.[13],[14],[15] A combination of chromium picolinate and biotin has been shown to improve glucose management and several lipid measurements in individuals with poorly controlled diabetes.[16]

Lipoic acid is an antioxidant that improves insulin sensitivity, reduces the risk of diabetic neuropathy, and also may support weight loss goals if this is an issue.

Many botanical agents have a long history of use in different cultures for improving blood sugar balance. Berberine, found in a variety of plants including Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenseal, has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and modify the gut microbiota which may contribute to the effects seen in diabetes.[17],[18],[19] Supplementation with berberine also has been shown to improve cholesterol metabolism, reducing total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol.[20] Berberine may even support a healthy waistline, as benefits also have been seen related to fat metabolism.[21]

Berberine may even support a healthy waistline, as benefits also have been seen related to fat metabolism.

Other herbs such as gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre),[22] an herb native to India and commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, bitter melon (Momordica charantia),[23] a fruit commonly used in Asian and Indian cuisine, Lagerstroemia speciosa (commonly known as banaba and common in the Philippines), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum),[24],[25] and cinnamon[26] all have evidence and a long history of cultural use for the management of blood sugar balance. Several of these herbs have evidence for improving cholesterol balance as well. Although many of these herbs can be used for culinary purposes, standardized supplements are more effective as they concentrate the parts of these plants that are most active.

Summary

Diabetes does not have to be a life sentence, and there are many things that can be done on a daily basis to restore the body to a healthy state. Dietary changes, exercise, and evidence-based supplementation can help bring the body back into balance. Seeking the support of an integrative medical provider such as naturopathic doctor, integrative physician, or holistic nutritionist, and personal trainer or other activity to get your body moving can help you get on track, particularly during the high- stress and often food- and beverage-focused holiday season.

 

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