Diabetes is an increasingly common medical condition that relates to the body’s difficulty in producing insulin, an important hormone for regulating blood sugar levels. If you suffer from diabetes, there are natural diabetes treatment options you can try. Here’s 5 of the best.
What is diabetes?
In 2012, about 9% of the U.S. population was considered diabetic, up from 8% in 2010, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Seniors are especially likely to develop the disorder, with nearly 26% of people aged 65 and older experiencing symptoms.
Advances in medicine have left diabetes a largely treatable condition. Unfortunately, about 28% of people with the disease remain undiagnosed. Receiving proper treatment is critical to survival, and diabetes ranks as the seventh most common cause of death in the U.S.
What is diabetes’ underlying mechanism?
When we eat food, the sugar in it triggers the pancreas to begin producing insulin, which helps cells absorb blood glucose so they can use it for food. Without enough or any insulin, blood sugar languishes. Cells need energy to function, and when they don’t receive sugar, they essentially starve. High levels of blood sugar cause other problems, too. They may impair the:
Diabetes can also lead to pain conditions, like diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Types of diabetes
There are two separate types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children and young adults. With this type of diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. People with the disease must take shots of the hormone to keep their bodies functioning properly.
With type 2 diabetes, the most common type, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t process it properly. Type 2 diabetes typically appears in adults. However, increasing numbers of children and teens have developed the condition in the past two decades, possibly because of rising levels of obesity and decreased physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What are common diabetes symptoms?
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include:
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Feelings of extreme hunger or thirst
- Cuts or bruises that heal very slowly
What causes diabetes?
Researchers are still working to understand the causes of diabetes, and new information comes out all the time. However, there are several risk factors that are widely understood.
- Obesity: Large amounts of fat tissue are more likely to become resistant to insulin
- Sedentary lifestyle: Exercise helps people maintain their weight, but it also burns blood glucose
- Age: Older people have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes
- Family history: Having first-degree relatives with the disorder increases your risk
- High blood pressure: People with blood pressure higher than 140/90 millimeters of mercury are at higher risk
There are also dietary risk factors that have been linked to diabetes, such as diets high in artificial sweeteners. Research published in the journal Nature hypothesizes that sweeteners such as saccharine and aspartame alter the makeup of bacteria in the gut and lead to an inability to process blood glucose.
The ADA recommends that people avoid drinking sugary beverages, including energy or sports drinks, to help prevent diabetes.
What are some natural diabetes treatment options?
The ultimate goal in managing diabetes is keeping blood sugar at a healthy level. The primary methods of achieving that goal can involve natural diabetes treatment.
Non-medical treatments such as meditation, diet, and exercise are wonderful ways to manage diabetes and its complications.
The idea that non-medical interventions like meditation can help people is a relatively new idea, but studies are also increasingly validating the methods. These therapies are known as alternative or complementary medicine because they’re designed to complement traditional medical techniques including prescriptions and blood glucose monitoring efforts.
Natural diabetes treatment options may include a combination of the following:
- A program of weight loss
- Healthy eating
A study published in Behavioral Medicine found that people with diabetes experienced benefits from practicing mindfulness, which researchers defined as a heightened sense of awareness combined with observing emotions and bodily sensations without judging them.
There are many different types of meditation, and mindfulness is one type. It involves sitting still and focusing on the breath or following a guided meditation. The idea behind meditation techniques in general is that stress comes from the mind and its thoughts about circumstances or reactions to events.
While mindfulness meditation has long been known as a stress-reduction technique, scientists involved with the Behavioral Medicine study wanted to investigate its ability to help people with chronic conditions like diabetes.
To start, study participants took a six-week course in meditation. Researchers used sequential methods and measured the resulting changes in participants’ states of mind including worry and thought suppression. Scientists also asked subjects if they liked meditating through interviews and a focus group.
The results were successful, with meditators experiencing sounder sleep, enhanced feelings of relaxation, and a greater ability to accept their diagnosis and reality of the disease. Dr. Peter Coventry, lead author of the study, says:
“Mindfulness-based interventions appear to be an acceptable and effective way for some people with long-term conditions to regain a sense of balance and self-determination in their lives by allowing them to accept their limitations and focus on what is achievable in the present.”
Those wanting to learn mindfulness meditation might find it helpful to seek out local classes, books, or even YouTube videos.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting thin needles into the body, their placement determined by invisible lines of energy flowing through channels in the body called meridians. In acupuncture, practitioners say the needles help free up stagnant or blocked energy, which is believed to cause pain or disease.
Although acupuncture doesn’t help diabetes in itself, it has been shown to help people manage neuropathy, a feeling of numbness or tingling in the extremities that’s common in people with diabetes.
Scientists believe it works by encouraging the body to release natural painkillers, including endorphins.
Exercise is one of the best ways for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels, according to WebMD.
Breaking a sweat or keeping moving not only burns calories and helps to keep your weight down, but the sheer act of working out helps the body absorb blood glucose. It also helps decrease blood pressure and cholesterol.
People with type 2 diabetes who exercised at a moderate intensity had a reduction in fat stored near the heart, liver, and abdomen, found a study completed by the Radiological Society of North America. The reduced fat deposits came from exercise alone since study participants did not change their diets.
The level and type of exercise you do will vary depending upon your interests and current level of physical activity. If you were never the type of person who liked playing basketball, worry not. There are plenty of opportunities to stay active. The best way to incorporate exercise in your routine and have the habit stick is to find an activity that you enjoy.
Options may include hiking, walking, biking, or dancing. Incorporating weight training into your activities at least twice a week also helps maintain blood glucose levels, according to WebMD. If you’re not currently physically active, try starting slow with even ten minutes of activity at a time before slowly increasing workout times.
Diet is one of the most important tools for managing diabetes and blood glucose levels. Eating foods with low glycemic indexes, which means they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar, promotes relatively even levels in the body.
The American Diabetic Association (ADA) recommends eating a varied diet that includes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean meats, beans, poultry, and fish, although vegetarian diets are perfectly healthy for people with diabetes. According to ADA:
“There is no one perfect food so including a variety of different foods and watching portion sizes is key to a healthy diet.”
Variety aside, some foods are particularly potent in their ability to boost health, according to ADA. Those foods include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, which are packed with nutrients and antioxidants, citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges, which provide vitamin C, and sweet potatoes because they have vitamin A, fiber, and a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes.
Berries and nuts are also highly recommended by ADA because they’re nutrient dense and promote health all around.
The ADA recommends a diet low in saturated fat, with meals based on lean proteins, whole grains, non-starch vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats. People with diabetes can typically eat starchy foods such as potatoes and pasta as long as portion sizes are limited.
A typical, per-meal carbohydrate load is anywhere 45 to 60 grams, according to the ADA, although each person’s optimal level will vary and should be determined in conjunction with a health care provider. The amount of fruit a person eats should also be discussed as part of developing a meal plan because it contains carbohydrates.
The ADA also says that people with diabetes may eat sweets or dessert as long as they’re eaten in very small amounts on special occasions.
In addition to whole foods, some specific nutrients have been shown to be especially helpful for diabetes. They include:
- Magnesium: People with diabetes frequently have low levels of magnesium in their blood, and some studies show that taking supplements of the mineral helps control blood sugar levels and regulate insulin, according to the University of Maryland Health Center (UM). Foods rich in magnesium include broccoli, lentils, almonds, spinach, and tofu.
- Alpha-lipoic Acid (ALA): This antioxidant helps transform glucose into energy and is contained in every cell. Although the body makes ALA, it’s found in foods such as red meat. Supplements are also available. Several studies have shown that ALA works to lower blood sugar, according to UM. And in Germany, the antioxidant has been used to combat peripheral neuropathy.
- Chromium: The mineral chromium has also shown promise as a natural blood sugar regulator, and it may reduce the amount of insulin required by people with diabetes, according to UM. Foods containing the mineral include lean meats, cheese, whole grain bread, and select spices, including thyme and black pepper.
What are complications of diabetes?
Diabetes can lead to other, more serious conditions including kidney disease and stroke. It is also connected to a variety of chronic pain conditions, including:
- Everyday discomfort
About 60% of adults with type 2 diabetes are affected by chronic pain, according to a study published in Diabetes Care. That pain may impact patients’ ability to practice self-care and manage the disease. Areas most commonly affected by chronic pain included the back, knees, and hips.
Meanwhile, as many as 18 million U.S. adults and children experience diabetic neuropathy—up to 70% of people with diabetes—according to The Neuropathy Association. Neuropathy is nerve damage that can lead to feelings of pain, numbness, muscle weakness, tingling, or a burning sensation.
Types of diabetic neuropathy include peripheral neuropathy, which is the most common and affects the extremities. Sometimes neuropathy affects the hips, legs, and thighs as opposed to the extremities. This type is called radiculoplexus neuropathy.
A third type, known as autonomic neuropathy, affects the nerves governing important organs including the heart, lungs, bladder, and stomach. This can lead to difficulties regulating body temperature or increased heart rate, even if you’re relaxing.
Mononeuropathy refers to damage on a specific nerve, usually in the face, legs, or torso. This can cause significant pain, but usually doesn’t lead to long-term problems, according to Mayo Clinic.
Gout is another complication that commonly appears in people with diabetes. Gout is a type of arthritis that results from excessive amounts of uric acid. It causes sudden bouts of extreme pain in the feet or hands. Swelling and redness may also appear. Gout is related to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle—the same risks as type 2 diabetes.
What are interventional treatments?
Diabetes is a progressive condition, which means that it typically worsens over time. For people with type 2 diabetes, treatment plans typically begin with lifestyle changes and oral medication. However, if the condition worsens, insulin may be required to keep blood glucose at a healthy level.
Likewise, if you’re suffering from diabetic neuropathy, there are pain treatments that can help. These may include medications or other approaches.
To talk to a doctor about your diabetes pain, or to discuss other natural diabetes treatment options, click here. You’ll find a pain doctor in your area who can help.
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