Diabetes: A 21st Century Epidemic
by Michael T. Murray, N.D.
Diabetes is one of society's biggest drains of resources—both financial and human. The economic toll of diabetes in the United States alone is staggering—in excess of 100 billion dollars annually. What's more, approximately one-third of the 17 million people in this country with diabetes are unaware that they have it. Many of these individuals first become conscious that they have diabetes when they develop one of its life threatening complications such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes from these complications is about four times that of people without. In addition to a shortened life span, diabetes carries with it compromises on quality of life with risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis, and limb amputation.
TWO MAJOR CATEGORIES OF DIABETES: TYPES 1 AND 2
TYPE 1 diabetes is associated with complete destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas that manufacture the hormone insulin. Individuals with type 1 will require life-long insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. About five to 10 percent of all diabetics are type 1.
TYPE 2 diabetes is typically represented by elevated insulin levels, indicating a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body. Approximately 90 percent of individuals with type 2 are obese. Obesity greatly reduces the sensitivity of cells to the hormone insulin.
THE NEED FOR NATURAL MEDICINE
Diabetes is a very serious disorder that requires effective treatment. Obviously, the best treatment for any disease is primary prevention. Can diabetes be prevented? Absolutely —and it is quite clear that the best way to achieve this goal is through a proper lifestyle, diet, and nutritional supplementation. Current conventional medical treatment has undoubtedly led to longer, healthier lives for diabetics. However, as a result, the most effective approach to diabetes and other blood sugar problems requires the use of the lifestyle, dietary, and nutritional supplement strategies.
USED PROPERLY, A NATURAL MEDICINE APPROACH TO DIABETES CAN:
It is quite clear that the best diet for the management of diabetes and other blood sugar disorders is not the one promoted by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). One of the main criticisms of the Diabetes Food Pyramid, promoted by the ADA, is that it does not stress strongly enough the importance of quality food choices. For example, the bottom of the pyramid represents the foods that the ADA thinks should make up the bulk of a diabetic's diet: the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group. With six to 11 servings a day from this group, a diabetic is supposedly on the way to a healthier life. What the pyramid doesn't tell, though, is that following these recommendations sets the stage for further insulin resistance, obesity, and heart disease.
If you compare the dietary recommendations in the book, How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes with Natural Medicine to the ADA's, you will notice some clear differences. Our version incorporates the best from two of the most healthful diets ever studied—the traditional Mediterranean diet and the traditional Asian diet. These diets have also been shown to be protective against diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The four key principles of our diet program are to avoid high calorie, low-nutrient foods such as junk foods, candy, and soft drinks; follow a low glycemic diet; eat a "rainbow" assortment of fruits and vegetables; reduce the intake of meat and animal products; and eat the right types of fats.
GOALS OF MANAGEMENT WITH NATURAL MEDICINE
The goals of controlling blood sugar levels and promoting good health with natural medicine are quite simple:
1. Reduce after-meal blood sugar elevations
2. Provide optimal nutrient status
3. Improve insulin function and sensitivity
4. Prevent nutritional and oxidative stress
Specific natural products are available to address each of these core goals. For example, soluble fiber supplements have been shown to enhance blood sugar control, decrease insulin levels, and reduce the number of calories absorbed by the body. Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to be effective in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy and actually stimulates the regeneration of nerve fibers. Extracts of the herb Gymnema sylvestre have been shown to enhance glucose control, presumably through helping to increase the production or activity of insulin.