Naturopathic Dietary Strategies to Managing and Maintaining a Healthy Blood Sugar
Adult-onset or Type 2 Diabetes is a disease where the body becomes resistant to insulin and cannot use it to store energy from food. This leads to high levels of blood glucose, which can damage organs and lead to heart attacks, strokes and blindness. Considered an ‘epidemic’ in both North America and Europe, there are currently over 9 million Canadians living with either diabetes or metabolic syndrome according the Canadian Diabetes Association. Commonly associated with our increasing rates of obesity, diabetes is contributing to a heavily increased burden—and increased costs-- on our public health care system in Canada. However, despite these numbers, Type 2 Diabetes is both a preventable and treatable disease.
Studies are increasingly showing that individualized approaches to diet, exercise and lifestyle promotion, rather than medication, are more effective in the long term for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and reversing diabetes. This is an approach that is central to naturopathic medicine, which emphasizes the body’s own healing abilities through healthy dietary choices, sustainable exercise, stress control and regular sleep. While science is showing that all four interventions will work individually to control high levels of blood sugar and assist in weight control, naturopathic physicians are trained in comprehensive, whole person care, a model of medicine where doctors listen to their patient’s individual needs and work out plans in a shared decision-making environment. Education and empowerment of patients to make healthy lifestyle choices are key.
Dietary approaches: healthy food can be delicious and good for you!
Many people think that changing their diets to achieve healthy blood sugar control and lose weight will result in bland, unappetizing meals, or leave them fighting hunger pangs, yet this needn’t be the case. What a naturopathic doctor will tell you to avoid is refined sugars, ‘junk’ foods and processed starches, however, there are many low-carbohydrate foods that may surprise you. Some of these foods include legumes such as kidney, cannellini or other beans, nuts, berries, proteins, and whole grains. The key is to provide enough protein and fiber with food to slow down absorption of the high-energy carbohydrates and decrease the load on the pancreas to produce insulin. Sometimes simple choices such as substituting fresh apple slices for apple juice can lead to significant decreases in post-meal blood sugar levels. With meal planning and ongoing support, these changes are often not that difficult to make and keep long-term.
Coupled with a healthy diet, anti-oxidant supplements such as alpha-lipoic acid, and Vitamins C and E can often slow down the tissue damage associated with diabetes. Additionally, botanical medicines such as cinnamon, bitter melon, and fenugreek can often act to decrease insulin resistance, and sugar craving and assist patients with staying on their nutritional programs. ND’s are trained in the appropriate and safe use of these natural health products (NHPs) and will be able to guide you as to appropriate dosages, timing, and potential for interactions with prescription medicines. Many patients under naturopathic care can eventually discontinue oral anti-hypoglycemic agents or blood pressure medication , eliminating side effects associated with these medicines and saving money.
Stress reduction and sleep: surprising benefits
Research has shown that chronic stress can increase production of both adrenalin and cortisol, hormones that can both induce carbohydrate cravings and increase blood sugar levels. This can end up causing a type of ‘vicious circle’ where imbalanced hormones increase insulin resistance, which in turn increases abdominal fat, which increases insulin resistance. Stress can also disrupt sleep, which short-circuits our body’s ability to regenerate and repair itself, and further leads to increased insulin resistance. While many of our lives are busy and stressful at present, naturopathic doctors are trained to help recognize many of these hidden sources of stress, and suggest helpful stress busters such as massage therapy, relaxation techniques, or ways to incorporate gentle exercise into even the busiest of schedules. Botanical medicines and bio-identical hormone therapies may also be indicated if laboratory testing reveals imbalances; these can frequently help increase the effectiveness of other diet and exercise promotion strategies.
Naturopathic doctors are trained to understand and address many of the factors involved in conditions such as diabetes and help guide patients towards better health using strategies such as diet, exercise, botanical medicines, natural hormones and anti-oxidant supplements. With ongoing lifestyle and nutritional support, however, individualized programs can become new habits, which research has shown is the key to stopping the progression of insulin resistance to diabetes, and diabetes to chronic disease and poor quality of life. With many patients, ongoing naturopathic care can reduce and even eliminate the need for medications, and help maintain good health as we move through our lives.
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