Preventing, Reversing and Managing Diabetes Naturally
Nov 27, 2016 09:18PM
By Linda Sechrist
Attending to the miracle of our body’s metabolism—which consists of numerous processes that include the digestion of food for growth and energy—is critical to good health. Diabetes, a metabolic disorder, is a serious threat to these processes as well as any hope of anti-aging and longevity.
Types of Diabetes
There are four types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, gestational and Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). In type 1, which is not caused by eating or lifestyle habits, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Type 2 is a metabolic disorder in which the cells are unable to use insulin. This type of diabetes is caused by unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits, and if changes in those areas are made when symptoms are first identified, it may be reversible.
Gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, typically disappears afterwards, although women who have had it are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
LADA is an autoimmune form of diabetes in which the death of the beta cells occurs over a span of years rather than rapidly.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 8.1 million of the 29.1 individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes were surprised by the diagnosis.
The telltale signs of diabetes are dry mouth, excessive thirst, frequent urination, being hungry all the time (even after meals), unusual weight gain or loss and lack of energy. According to Nancy Iankowitz, a family nurse practitioner who is the director and founder of Holistic and Integrative Healing in Holmes, NY, many diabetics learn of their condition from a routine blood test ordered by their doctor.
Iankowitz has a patient-centered practice that is based on a practical four-month plan that includes tracking the patient’s foods, moods, blood pressure, sleeping habits and exercise, all of which are important to preventing, managing or reversing diabetes. Initially, if a client presents with symptoms of diabetes, she recommends an A1c glycated hemoglobin blood test, which is a reading of blood sugar levels over a three-month period. “Physical symptoms are important to note because type 2 diabetics have the same signs, but since it can take years to develop full-blown diabetes, symptoms are subtler,” she says.
Marizelle J. Arce, a naturopathic doctor and the owner of Natural Care of Westchester in Larchmont says fatigue can also be an indicator of pre-diabetes and diabetes—particularly feeling tired shortly after eating a meal. “Fatigue occurs because the body is using a lot of energy to manage the inflammatory response from the extra blood sugar level that is the result of eating processed food and sugary drinks. Additionally, excess weight gain, particularly when it is concentrated at or just above the waistline, can often signal a pre-diabetic state,” she says.
Blood Sugar (Glucose) Levels
Normal blood glucose levels vary throughout the day. For healthy individuals, a fasting blood sugar level on awakening is less than 100 milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dl) of blood. Before meals, normal levels are 70 to 99 mg/dl. Fasting glucose levels should vary between 100 and 125. Above 126 is an indicator that lifestyle changes are needed to avoid progression into full type 2 diabetes.
“Individuals who have developed early stages of insulin resistance will not always experience high blood glucose levels, but without medical intervention, those with type 1 diabetes will experience extremely high glucose levels,” notes Arce, who says she likes to give patients the steps to change their lifestyle and health patterns before they develop full type 2 diabetes.
Fluctuating Blood Sugar
“Roller-coaster sugar levels along with high insulin levels are irritating to the nerves and weaken the lining of blood vessels,” Arce says. “They contribute to neuropathies in the legs and can destroy blood vessels behind the eyes, which can lead to retinopathy. Excess sugar intake raises triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) that circulates in the blood along with cholesterol. Triglycerides are an important measure of heart health.” An excessive amount of glucose in the blood—200 to 499 mg/dl—can lead to a risk of stroke and heart attack, she says.
Arce notes that if fluctuating high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels remain untreated, other symptoms may appear, including numbness, tingling, pain or discomfort in the hands and feet. These symptoms can indicate nerve damage as a result of high blood sugar levels, which if allowed to remain high for long periods of time will create complications such as the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems and neuropathy.
High Risk Groups
People at high-risk for type 2 diabetes include those who consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates and sugars, are overweight, or have an exceedingly sedentary lifestyle that includes eating unhealthy processed foods.
An awareness of risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes, is important to early detection. Armed with this knowledge and with guidance from a health professional regarding how to keep diabetes from progressing, individuals will know what types of changes they should make and how to go about making them.
Both Iankowitz and Arce say making the most impactful choices is critical in the earliest stages, which is why they work closely with patients to educate and help them integrate dietary changes into everyday life. They educate patients on the necessity of eating foods that are low on the glycemic index and reducing blood glucose levels while increasing their consumption of healthy fats such as nuts, avocado and olive oil. Alarmed at the nationwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes as well as the increased number of teenagers in different stages of the disease, Iankowitz and Arce emphasize that antioxidant-rich plant foods are a critical important component of an effective dietary plan for all age groups.
The Role of Exercise
Exercise plays an important role in reversing pre-diabetes and managing diabetes for individuals who are on insulin, Arce says. “Exercise increases the muscle cell’s demand for glucose, lowering insulin levels. Therefore glucose is moved out of the blood and into the muscle cells,” she explains.
Dr. Angelo Baccellieri, owner of Westchester Wellness Medicine, which has locations in Harrison and Mount Vernon, introduces patients to intermittent fasting, a pattern of eating that helps them avoid insulin resistance and control blood sugar.
“The concept of intermittent fasting is about going 14 to 16 hours without food,” he says. “This replicates how our ancestors ate when food was not in abundance thousands of years ago. They didn’t wake up in the cave and eat ham and eggs. They feasted when food was available and fasted in famine, sometimes going multiple days without food.” He notes that this type of fasting can be done once a week.
“Our biochemistry actually does very well with intermittent fasting, which isn’t really so hard to do when your last meal is at 7 p.m. and you skip breakfast and delay lunch the next day until 1 p.m. You can drink water with lemon, teas and black coffee. By 1 p.m., the body has been 18 hours without protein and carbohydrates. Insulin levels haven’t gone up, and the body is burning fat for fuel,” he says.
Herbs such as turmeric reduce inflammation, and berberine can help cells use glucose efficiently. Supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin B-complex, resveratrol and pycnogenol can raise antioxidant levels, in which most pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals are deficient. Iankowitz, Arce and Baccellieri formulate their supplement recommendations specifically for each patient.
Control and Reversal
There is no quick fix for preventing or reversing diabetes. Restoring health begins with making the most impactful lifestyle changes: replacing processed and sugary foods in meals and snacks with nutrient-dense whole foods; determining possible food sensitivities with an elimination diet; eating some protein with every meal; eliminating environmental toxins; performing a form of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training at least three to five times a week; and adding stress-relieving practices such as yoga, tai chi or qigong.
Dr. Nancy Iankowitz practices at Holistic and Integrative Healing LLC, 24 Great Bear Rd., Holmes (917.716.6802).
Dr. Marizelle J. Arce practices at Natural Care of Westchester, 20 North Ave., Larchmont (914.315.9596, NaturalCareWestchester.com).
Dr. Angelo Baccellieri practices at Westchester Wellness Medicine, 704 Locust St., Mount Vernon (914.699.6036) and 500 Mamaroneck Ave., Harrison (914.630.7330, WestchesterWellnessMedicine.com).