Diabetes Prevention and Management
Article Written by Tegan Wallis, Health Practitioner
Diabetes is one of the major killers in the modern world and is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. According to Diabetes Australia, 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. Diabetes is a chronic and complex condition.
There are many different forms of diabetes such as Type 1 (insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes), Type 2 (formerly noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes), Gestational diabetes, and Insulin resistance.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and usually affects adults, although more and more young people are getting Type 2 these days. There are at least 2 million Australians that have pre-diabetes who are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. What’s astounding is that up to 58% of cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.
Type 2 is considered the lifestyle diabetes as although there is a strong genetic predisposition, the cause is often associated with poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, and obesity which is seen as the classic ápple shape’ body where extra weight is carried around the waist.
In Type 2 diabetes, many people have no symptoms at all, while other signs are dismissed as a part of ‘getting older’. By the time Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the complications of diabetes may already be present.
Symptoms include experiencing regularly or intermittently:
- Being excessively thirsty (not related to exercise or hot weather)
- Passing more urine
- Feeling tired and lethargic (even with getting enough sleep)
- Always feeling hungry (despite eating enough)
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Itching, skin infections
- Blurred vision
- Weight gain (especially the ápple’ shape body)
- Mood swings
- Leg cramps
Despite these being the major symptoms of diabetes, having one or all of them doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes. If you are concerned then please get tested.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is the condition of having high or elevated blood sugars.
As sugars (even natural sugars) and simple carbohydrates are digested from the food we take, they force the pancreas to produce excess insulin, a hormone which is needed to regulate the transport of the sugars out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
Over a long period of time, when the insulin levels are driven up again and again, the pancreas become worn out and the cells become resistant to taking in any more sugar.
This create excess sugar floating around in the blood that is unable to be absorbed by the cells, tissues, and organs. This keeps the blood sugar unnaturally high. Sugar lingers there until the insulin stores it as fat, causing abdominal fat, obesity and high cholesterol.
This process causes a number of health issues such as:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye disease
- Nerve damage
Pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes can often be managed (and reversed) with healthy eating, regular physical activity and the assistance of herbal medicine.
Tips for managing diabetes and controlling blood sugar issues
1. Get tested
50% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms then go and get tested. Detecting or managing blood sugar issues early means you can start to reverse the process and sustain good health.
2. Support Digestion
According to Ayurveda one for the prime causes of Diabetes is impaired digestion. Impaired digestion leads to accumulation of specific digestive impurities/ toxins (known as ama). This ama accumulates throughout the body blocking channels, ducts and systems. It starts to coat the pancreatic cells and impair the production of insulin.
By ensuring a well-functioning digestive system you can burn up already produced ama, as well as treating the root cause of the condition.
Bitter foods are a great way to stimulate digestion, and also help to combat blood sugar issues. Foods like rocket, kale, green leafy vegetables, eggplant, turmeric. One of the best foods for blood sugar is called Bitter melon. There is a lot of research on this little vegetable showing its effectiveness in diabetes. You can find it at Asian markets and we have a beautiful recipe for it in our Sukhavati cookbook.
3. Follow a diet that supports healthy blood sugar metabolism
Keep a food diary and observe if you are consuming a diet high in sugar (even natural sugars) and simple carbohydrates. For example, if you have toast for breakfast with a fruit juice, a salad roll for lunch, a biscuit in the afternoon with your cup of tea, then pasta for dinner, this could be enough to add strain to your pancreas and insulin production.
Instead of simple carbohydrates, swap to wholegrain – quinoa, red rice, brown rice, barley, basmati rice (even though a white rice it has a low GI and beneficial in diabetes in small amounts) are all great options. Try to eat carbohydrates at lunchtime only and have a light dinner of plant based protein and vegetables.
Ensure you are getting adequate amount of protein with each meal. Protein helps to keep blood sugar stable. Plant- based protein is preferred such as mung beans, lentils, beans and tofu, as research shows that high intake of animal protein is linked to diabetes (The China Study, 2005, Campbell et al). Better forms of meat to eat would be organic chicken and fish. Snacking on nuts and seeds (1 handful at a time is plenty) is a great way to keep sugar levels stable.
Fruit is high in simple sugars so generally should be limited in diabetes, but you can snack on low GI fruits such as berries, mangoes, pomegranate and figs.
4. Support the body with herbal medicine
There are many wonderful ancient herbs and spices that have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to control blood sugar that are now being proven by modern science. The leaders here are Turmeric, Cinnamon, Fenugreek and Gymnema. So add these liberally to all your meals!
Cinnamon is delicious in breakfast and herbal teas. Research has shown that just 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day reduces glucose, triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol in people with Type 2 diabetes. Researchers from this study concluded that the addition of cinnamon in the diet of people with Type 2 diabetes reduces risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Khan et al, 2003).
Fenugreek is high in soluble fibre which helps lower blood sugar by slowing down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. An ancient home-remedy for diabetes is to soak 1 tsp of Fenugreek seeds overnight in water, then eat the next day.
Gymnema sylvestre is the best Ayurvedic herb for diabetes. It should be taken in supplement form so please see an Ayurvedic consultant or health practitioner before starting. In Sanskrit, its name is ‘Gumar’, which means sugar-destroyer. When applied to the tongue it anaesthetises the sweet taste buds and destroys the taste for sweet food for several hours. Great for combating sugar cravings! It is also useful to improve blood sugar control and reduce the need for insulin or hypoglycaemic drugs.
Many lab studies have verified the anti-diabetic properties of Gymnema. They have shown that Gymnema extracts returned fasting blood sugar to normal, and actually help to restore damaged pancreatic tissue, provided the damage has not gone too far.
A controlled study on insulin-dependent diabetics found that Gymnema extract reduced insulin requirements by about 50% (Baskaran et al, 1990).
A 9-month turmeric intervention of a pre-diabetes population significantly lowered the number of pre-diabetic individuals who eventually developed Type 2 diabetes. (Chuengsamarn, et al, 2012). This study demonstrated that the turmeric intervention in a pre-diabetes population is beneficial, so add turmeric to all your meals – curries, stews, soups, dal, vegetables!
5. Get moving
Physical activity helps to improve the body’s response to insulin which can lower blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol (which reduces the risk of heart disease), control weight and reduce the risk of developing diabetes complications.
Yoga is a wonderful, gentle and holistic form of exercise perfect for the management of blood sugar issues. There are many poses that stimulates and support the pancreas directly, while improving metabolism and nourishing the body and mind as a whole. Each person is unique so work with a Yoga teacher to formulate a specific routine of postures that best suits your needs.
The Ayurvedic purification and rejuvenating program removes deep rooted stress and impurities from the system. A tailored in-depth program will removed the ama (digestive impurities) which is causing imbalance in the blood sugar regulation and poor pancreatic function. It will address the root cause of the issue, improve digestive function, alleviate developing diabetes complications and repair damaged tissues. Rejuvenation will keep the enzymes in the tissue cells in their normal functioning condition, restore and balance the body functions and maintain the overall health and wellbeing of the individual which will last a long time after the program ends.