Diabetes is a general term used to describe the three forms of disease where there is a problem with the management of blood sugar and with the control of insulin production by specialised cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form and it is the focus of this article. It accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases. Although it occurs more frequently in older people, it is becoming much more common across all age groups. Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for 5 to 10 percent of diabetics, will usually start in childhood or young adulthood. Type 1 diabetes is managed medically, as is the third type, gestational diabetes, that can affect women during pregnancy (and for which all pregnant women are regularly tested).
In all forms of diabetes there is a struggle for the body to effectively convert digested food into useable energy. The fuel source for energy is glucose (a kind of sugar). But for cells to pick up glucose they need a hormone called insulin. There are complex mechanisms that control the “on” and “of” switch for insulin. With the onset of diabetes there are several ways that insulin production and insulin control start to malfunction. But the effects are the same and glucose builds up in the blood instead of moving into the cells where it can be converted into energy. If this is not managed correctly, over time high blood sugar levels will damage many parts of the body, including the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, nerves, circulation, and skin. Insulin has an effect on many other body systems such as the liver and it is vital that complications are prevented, minimised and delayed. This is why there is increasing emphasis on management not simply of blood glucose levels but blood pressure and cholesterol as well.
Overweight people are at very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes; 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Other risk factors include a family history of diabetes and physical inactivity. Certain minority population groups are at greater risk. Type 2 diabetes usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which cells do not respond to insulin properly. Symptoms develop gradually and may include fatigue, frequent urination, excessive thirst and hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and slow-healing wounds or sores. However, it is possible to have type 2 diabetes without experiencing any symptoms.
People with diabetes should be medically managed and learn effective ways to keep their blood glucose in a healthy range. There is no doubt that the most effective tools for managing type 2 diabetes are weight loss, healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose monitoring. Many people also need to take prescription pills, insulin, or both.
Foods & herbs for the home
- Food management is focused on correct carbohydrate metabolism. It makes sense that sugar and alcohol are avoided, but refined grains such as white flour (and products made from it) have an equally disastrous effect because they so rapidly elevate blood sugar levels. These foods have a high glycaemic index (GI), meaning they quickly release sugar into the blood. Choose foods with a low GI, including non-starchy vegetables, slow-burning complex carbohydrates such as beans, lentils and whole grains (oats, rye, brown rice and Pot Barley) and healthy protein-rich foods such as nuts and seeds, organic white meats, organic eggs and fish. Medium and high-GI whole foods such as carrots, potato, pumpkins and parsnips, although nutritious, should only be used in small quantities and combined with low-starch vegetables and protein foods; they should not form the main carbohydrate portion of the meal.
- Fruit is rich in nutrients and antioxidants and can have many benefits. However it can be high in sugar, so make sure you combine it with a low-GI or protein-containing food such as a small handful of raw nuts or seeds. This slows down absorption of sugars into the blood. Apples are one of the best fruits to choose, but avoid hybrids that have been bred for extra sugar. A good old fashioned English apple is sweet/sour on the taste buds. Other good choices are wild fruits like blackberries, bilberries and pomegranate, grapefruit and greenish pears. Fruit juices, however, are too high in sugar and do not benefit from the fibre in the fruit to slow down absorption – they should be avoided. Grapes and bananas are among the highest-sugar fruits and should generally be avoided.
- For some, six small and easily digestible meals a day may be better than three large ones and can help to maintain balanced blood sugar.
- Sugar cravings are common and a little very dark chocolate can be eaten – this is high in antioxidants and healthy fats but lower in sugar than most other 'treats'. Try grating a square of 80 percent cocoa solid chocolate onto a sugar-free dessert.
- Cinnamon is gaining a good reputation for helping blood sugar levels to normalise and provides much needed sweetness. Add to baked apples, breakfast oats, wholemeal toast and wholemeal crumbles.
- Oats are rich in many vitamins and minerals; they are generally very nourishing. They can slow the rate of sugar metabolism, thus aiding the work of the pancreas. Organic oats are best; they can be soaked overnight in spring water and cinnamon powder, and eaten for breakfast. Oats are also good for lowering cholesterol.
- Blue green algae are also good at normalising blood sugar levels. Seaweeds especially hijiki can also help. Cook seaweeds with whole grains and add to salads and soups.
- Try Superfood Plus which contains both the above plant ingredients and thus can help to balance blood sugar levels while being deeply nourishing to other body systems. Ask us for a free sample.
- Instead of snacking in between meals drink Nettle Herbal Tea to provide a tonic and lift flagging energy; ask for a sample of EnergiRevive Powder as well.
- Organic Hibiscus Herbal Tea is rich in compounds that help to balance blood sugar.
- All low-starch vegetables raw or steamed are helpful, particularly those that have an opposite taste to sweet. Try sour and bitter tastes in small quantities such as chicory, dandelion leaves, artichokes and olives. They are an acquired taste for some but have beneficial effects on the liver. Similarly the use of Lemon & Artichoke Concentrate can assist the liver and overall digestion.
- Because of the links with heart disease and raised cholesterol it is better to reduce or eliminate red meat and dairy products. Use vegetable protein sources, organic eggs, organic white meat or fish for your protein source instead. Oily fish in particular may protect against heart problems.
- If heart disease, circulation problems and raised cholesterol start to cause concerns then introduce more garlic into your diet. You can download a free copy of Jill Davies’ book "Garlic" to learn more about this.
- Experiment with culinary herbs such as Mediterranean Medley Mix to increase flavour and boost overall immunity.
- Stress and shock (past and present) may be a contributing factor in diabetes. Certainly food cravings and overeating are more likely with unmanaged stress. Find an enjoyable exercise and try relaxation techniques including yoga/meditation.
- Deeply relaxing Lavender Essential Oil can be added to your bath water or to a massage oil.
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