High blood sugar (diabetes) hardly ever occurs as a single symptom. It is mostly part of the metabolic syndrome (high or high normal blood sugar, insulin resistance, overweight/obesity, lipid profile abnormalities: high harmful LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides with low beneficial HDL-cholesterol).
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 or juvenile-onset and type 2 or adult-onset, diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes manifests during childhood or puberty and sometimes in young adults (mainly before 30). Fewer than 15% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes. This is a more serious form than type 2 and requires regular insulin injections. It is caused mainly by an autoimmune defect. This means that the body's immune system attacks and destroys its own cells, those that manufacture the hormone insulin in the pancreas. This results in too little insulin to clear the sugar from the blood into the fat and muscle cells.
Type 1 diabetics usually need to have insulin injections daily for the rest of their lives. They can, however, decrease their insulin needs by taking natural supplements and making a few lifestyle changes, such as exercising and making better food choices. The aim for type 1 diabetics should be to keep their insulin requirements as low as possible and their bodies, especially their cardiovascular system, as healthy as possible.
- Type 2 diabetes is a health challenge caused by a defect in the receptor binding of insulin (insulin resistance) to allow blood sugar to enter cells where it’s utilised for fuel to drive all cellular functions. This leads to blood sugar imbalances, disturbance in many systems and chronic inflammation.
Type 2 diabetes usually starts in middle age or during pregnancy. It is the more common form of diabetes (more than 85% of diabetics have type 2 diabetes). With type 2 diabetes the body does produce insulin, but is unable to use it effectively because the insulin-dependent cells either lose their sensitivity to insulin (insulin resistance) or have too few insulin receptors.
Major environmental precipitating causes of type 2 diabetes are obesity and too little exercise. Losing just a few kilograms and moderate exercise such as walking for half an hour four times a week will improve the condition.
Lifestyle changes are recommended for type 1 and type 2 diabetics:
- Healthy eating habits with unrefined, low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates.
- No alcohol (it increases blood sugar levels).
- Plenty of exercise.
- Stress management. Stress precipitates hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) attacks and also makes it extremely difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is inclined to occur in families. Genetic factors are important in susceptibility for diabetes, but environmental factors (obesity, unhealthy eating habits, stress) are required to trigger it.
SYMPTOMS OF DIABETES
Diabetes might be present for years without any symptoms. Early symptoms might include extreme thirst and frequent urinating. Frequent candida (thrush) or other infections, or sores on the skin that don’t heal.
Everyone should have a fasting blood sugar finger-prick test done at least once a year. If the result from the finger-prick test is high, a full glucose tolerance test (GTT) should be done through a laboratory. Values over 5.5 mmol/litre are considered high. I recommend that values over 5.0 be considered high-normal and also be addressed as high blood sugar requiring lifestyle changes. This would prevent levels from rising even more – true preventive medicine.
A fasting insulin test is also indicated as part of regular screening, especially in people aged over 50.
CAUSES OF DIABETES
- Genetic predisposition.
- Environmental triggers:
- Diet high in refined, fibre-depleted carbohydrates, and too much sugar.
- High saturated fat (animal fat) diet.
- Obesity because of carbohydrate intolerance, high insulin levels, insulin insensitivity or resistance on fat and muscle cell membranes.
- Chromium deficiency.
- Eating too much smoked or cured meat.
- Virus infection of beta cells in the pancreas, inducing antibody attack.
- The nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy plays a role in determining whether a child will develop diabetes.
3. Insulin deficiency in type 1 diabetes due to autoimmune disease where antibodies are made against the beta cells in the pancreas. Seventy-five percent of insulin-dependent diabetics have antibodies against their pancreatic cells.
Most type 2 diabetics can control their blood sugar levels by losing weight, following a diet rich in unrefined (complex) low-GI carbohydrates and fibre, using food supplements and exercising regularly. People who have a family history of diabetes or whose fasting blood sugar levels are high-normal, can prevent the disease in the same way. As with many other chronic diseases, the onset of diabetes often makes people stop and reconsider their lifestyle.
Stress is an important trigger, as it is in all chronic diseases. Stress management is therefore an essential part of coping with the disease.
LOW BLOOD SUGAR AND DUMPING
Young girls and women with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) should be aware of the possibility of developing diabetes later in life. The fact that their blood sugar level drops too low is an indication of over-secretion of insulin by the pancreas. It causes cells to absorb glucose too rapidly and the blood glucose level drops, resulting in a decreased supply of glucose to the brain and other insulin-dependent cells (fat and muscle cells). There is already an abnormal glucose metabolism.
Another general problem with low blood sugar is referred to as ‘dumping' of blood sugar levels. If you become too hungry your blood sugar level drops very low and you feel nauseous. So you eat a large slab of chocolate and your blood sugar level shoots sky high. The pancreas goes into top gear and secretes an oversupply of insulin. This causes your blood sugar level to drop even lower than it was before. You feel ill, listless, irritable and depressed. A few years of fluctuating glucose levels can also lead to type 2 diabetes, whereas healthy eating habits will prevent this from happening.
Diabetics need food supplements, as they have a greatly increased need for many nutrients. Take additional fibre with plenty of water.
Chromium is probably the most important mineral for maintaining constant blood sugar levels. It is used for the treatment of high and low blood sugar levels. Chromium forms part of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF), an important molecule in the management of carbohydrate metabolism, as it improves the functioning of insulin.
Many people have a marginal chromium deficiency. Supplementation, especially for diabetics, is essential. Diabetics, people with high LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides and even those with marginally normal glucose tolerance levels should take about 400 to 600 micrograms of chromium a day in an amino acid chelation or some other organic form. Research in the USA indicates that chromium supplementation significantly reduces blood sugar levels after only two months and cholesterol levels after four months. All healthy adults should take 100 to 200 micrograms and children about 100 micrograms of chromium in a supplement each day.
Chromium levels tend to decline with increasing age as a result of reduced absorption. This can be one cause of type 2 diabetes. One reason for the current manifestation of chromium deficiency is the low levels of chromium in the soil. Fruit and vegetables are therefore also low in chromium. Refined food (white sugar and flour) has reduced chromium content, and a diet that places an extra burden on the digestive tract (e.g. junk food and sugar) also reduces the absorption of chromium.
Chromium ensures that blood glucose levels remain constant and prevents the sweet cravings that so many people have. Chromium is also important in the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system. It reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and increases good HDL cholesterol.
The amino acids glycine, cysteine and glutamine can also be taken as supplements: 250 to 500 mg of each to increase the production and function of GTF.
The abnormal glucose metabolism in diabetics results in the production of lots of free radicals due to oxidative stress. This is one of the factors leading to many of the side effects of diabetes. Next to chromium, antioxidants are probably the most important supplements for people with high or low blood sugar levels.
Vitamin E reduces cell damage and improves the healing of diabetic wounds. Vitamin E can also reduce the insulin requirements of diabetics. Type 1 diabetics must start with 100 IU of vitamin E a day and their insulin dosage must be monitored carefully. The insulin can be reduced systematically as the vitamin E dose is increased to 400 IUs a day, the recommended maintenance dosage for type 2 diabetics.
Vitamin C improves glucose tolerance and liver function. Take 500 mg of additional vitamin C twice a day. Transport of vitamin C into the cells is facilitated by insulin. Diabetics therefore often don’t have enough intracellular vitamin C.
Co-Enzyme-Q-10 is important in the metabolism of oxygen and the production of the energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It improves oxygen consumption at cellular level. Diabetics and people with cardiovascular disease will benefit from a Co-Q-10 supplement of 30 to 100 mg a day.
Magnesium can stimulate insulin activity. Low magnesium levels are constantly observed in diabetics. Take 400 mg of additional magnesium a day (in the evenings with calcium to ensure a better night's sleep).
Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) can be a useful supplement, especially in improving damage to the extremities (the feet, toes and calves) caused by poor blood circulation. It also improves the oxygen supply to tissue and helps to prevent atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries). Take 50 to 100 mg a day.
Vitamin B12 can also reduce the symptoms of diabetes. Take 200 micrograms a day.
Zinc supplements help to control blood glucose levels. Take 30 mg a day.
Manganese is a relatively unknown but essential mineral involved in various enzyme systems controlling the metabolism of glucose and proteins, bone formation, synthesis of L-dopamine (a neurotransmitter), cholesterol and mucopolysaccharides. Marginal deficiencies are common because of soil depletion, leading to reduced manganese in nuts and wholegrain products.
Flavonoids such as quercetin (400 to 800 mg), proanthocyanidin (from the extract of grape seeds or pine bark (100 mg), and Ginkgo biloba (120 mg) are strongly recommended for all diabetics. They prevent damage from the free radicals caused by the abnormal glucose metabolism; they also reduce the damage to peripheral blood vessels, prevent loss of sight, and protect all the organs (such as the brain) from increased blood sugar levels. Take them daily in two divided doses. Onions and garlic contain many of these nutrients. They lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Vanadium is another mineral involved in the metabolism of glucose which can reduce high blood glucose levels. It is used in the treatment of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Take a 50 micrograms supplement daily.
Medicinal herbs can help to reduce blood glucose levels:
- Gymnema sylvestre is a well-known herbal remedy for types 1 and 2 diabetes – take 200 mg twice a day.
- Cinnamon can be used in food, as a drink with ginger and honey, or taken in capsule form.
- Blueberry (bilberry or Vaccium myrtillus) is commonly used in Europe, England and America. A tea made from the leaves is a safe, mild remedy for reducing blood sugar in type 2 diabetics. Drink one cup a day for at least three months. Blueberry is also available as a tincture or extract (200 mg a day).
- Milk thistle is also recommended for diabetics and can be taken as a tea, or two capsules three times a day.
- Fenugreek capsules (200 mg three times a day before meals) or tea (one teaspoon of ground seed mixed with boiling water three times a day) can reduce blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics.
- Garlic (four capsules a day or plenty of fresh garlic in food) also helps to control blood sugar levels.
Editor's note: Special mentions
The edible Agaricus mushroom has been medicinally cultivated and contains compounds that might improve the body's use of insulin and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. Be sure to speak to your medical practitioner as Agaricus may lower blood sugar levels so be careful taking it with medication. In addition, Agaricus has proven prevention and anti-tumour activity for some types of cancer and can improve immunity.
Another remedy, native to South Africa, makes use of a unique blend of flour from the pods of the Prosopis tree, which grows in the harsh, arid Northern Cape Province. This is used as the key ingredient in the Manna Blood Sugar Support remedy to maintain even blood sugar levels by reducing the glycemic index of the food and drink you consume by up to 43%.
THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Diabetes is related to issues of responsibility. The following can provide some guidelines when looking for the hidden meaning in disease. These issues are often deeply unconscious and diabetics may need counselling to assist in bringing the blocked thoughts and emotions to the conscious and superconscious mind where healing can take place.
- Resentment over taking responsibility for others. This may be because the ‘other’ refuses to mature, denies his/her own self responsibility, causing the more responsible person to compensate.
- Children who have to ‘parent’ emotionally immature parents, may feel resentful because they’re denied the care and attention they need. The sweetness of being a carefree child is taken away too soon, or never existed at all.
- Resenting taking responsibility for oneself, expecting someone else to do this, refusing to take on the responsibility of one’s own maturation process.
- Resenting another’s growth into natural self responsibility because of a need to control the other person.
Making excuses for others’ irresponsible or immature behaviour (often parents excusing children far too long, and allowing them to be dependent far into their adult years). This leads to emotional energy being diverted away from the parent, and depletes energy needed for his/her own health and wellbeing.
These issues, which start in the mental and emotional bodies, finally attack the pancreas as the physical target. The pancreas is the ‘fuel tank’ of the body; insulin is the energy and the tank only produces enough energy for one person’s needs. The symptoms and signs of diabetes are signals from the body that the person’s energy is being used inappropriately. This is also the reason why diabetes, depression and heart disease often occur together in the same individual.
Type 2 diabetes is manageable and can be prevented by making lifestyle changes and taking supplements under the supervision of your doctor. Type 1 diabetics will probably always need insulin, but deep-seated emotional and psychological scars may be a contributory cause. However even in type 1 diabetics correct supplementation and healthy lifestyle habits will decrease insulin requirements and improve general wellbeing.
Editor's note: We have a regular section on diabetes with the latest developments here: Promising Diabetes Research Here are two more articles for further reading: An Appropriate Diabetes Diet and Diabetes and the Heart