Alternative Approaches to the Treatment of Diabetes
Diabetes is a general term for a disease caused by defective carbohydrate metabolism and characterized by abnormally large amounts of sugar in the blood and urine. Diabetes is usually classified into two types. Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes, formerly called juvenile-onset, usually occurs in children and young adults; and, Type II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) is found in persons over 40 years old and progresses slowly (Funk and Wagnalls 183).
Diabetes is considered a group of disorders with multiple causes, rather than a single disorder. The human pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin that promotes the entry of sugar glucose into all tissues of the body, providing energy for bodily activities. In a person with diabetes, however, the entry of glucose is impaired, either as a result of deficiency in the amount of insulin produced or of a blocking of the action of the insulin. Consequently, sugar builds up in the blood and is discharged in the urine. In a Type I diabetic, the problem is almost always a severe or total reduction in insulin production. In Type II diabetes, the pancreas often makes a considerable quantity of insulin, but the hormone is unable to promote the entry of glucose into tissues (Funk and Wagnalls 183).
There are many short and long-term complications from diabetes. If untreated Type 1 diabetes can be quickly fatal. It is accompanied by nausea, excessive thirst, frequent urination, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, and rapid deep breathing. Failure to respond with injections of insulin can result in a diabetic coma, or death (Medical Advisor 319).
Long-term complications of diabetes include damage to the eyes, nervous system, kidneys, and cardiovascular and circulatory systems, as well as weakening of the bodies overall resistance to infection.
Complications from diabetes are the primary cause of adult blindness in the United States. Within 10 years of their diagnosis over 50 percent of all diabetics develop a disorder called diabetic retinopathy. This weakens the capillaries that supply blood to the retina, and eventually effects vision. Diabetics are also more likely to develop cataracts and glaucoma (Medical Advisor 319).
People with diabetes have a higher chance of heart disease and circulatory problems such as high blood pressure, hardening of arteries, heart attacks, and strokes. A number of people with diabetes suffer from a condition known as diabetic neuropathy, which causes a gradual deterioration in the nervous system. Many develop slowed reflexes, loss of sensation, numbness and tingling in legs, impotence, and circulatory problems (Medical Advisor 319).
Treatment for both forms of diabetes requires adjustment of insulin levels in the body and strict management of diet and exercise.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, it is essential that you receive supplementary insulin every day, at least twice a day to promote your bodies use of blood glucose. Since insulin is a protein and is destroyed by digestive enzymes, it cannot be taken orally, it must instead be injected directly into the body at set intervals (Medical Advisor 319).
Most insulin in use today is processed synthetically, although some is still derived from animal hormone. Insulin comes in three types: short acting, taking effect in 30 to 40 minutes and lasting 6 hours, intermediate acting, taking effect in 3 to 4 hours and lasting up to 24 hours, and long acting, taking effect in 6 to 8 hours and lasting up to 30 hours. By monitoring you own blood glucose level, you can track your bodies fluctuating insulin demand, and better regulate it (Hull 285).
For most people with Type 2 diabetes, diet and exercise are sufficient to keep the disease under control. Others require drug therapy, which may include insulin or an oral hypoglycemia medication (Hull 285).
Since diabetes that is incorrectly treated can be life threatening, a person should never try to treat the disease without the help of a doctor, and any and all treatments should be discussed thoroughly. However, there are alternative supplemental treatments that can vary diet, or offer supplemental vitamins and other minerals that can restore blood levels, or treat secondary effects of the disease. Even stress reduction practices may help lower blood glucose levels(Funk and Wagnalls 184).
An old therapy has recently been applied to the treatment of diabetes – acupuncture. Stimulation of certain points with acupuncture needles may help relieve some of the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. Acupuncture has also been found to boost the immune system and minimize circulatory system complications. It should be noted that the use of acupuncture to assist in the treatment of diabetes, or any other disease, should only be through a consultation with a licensed practitioner (MEDICAL ADVISOR 320).
Herbal therapies for the treatment of illness have been around for thousands of years. The use of herbal therapies is only effective in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes – people with Type I who need insulin to manage their diabetes will not benefit from any herbal substitute (Medical Advisor 320).
There are several types of herbs that can benefit the Type 2 diabetic. Blueberry leaves have been found to lower blood glucose levels and help maintain the vascular system. These herbs may also prevent hemorrhages in the eyes if diabetic retinopathy has developed. Blood flow can be maintained at adequate levels with supplements of Ginkgo extracts. Other benefits of Ginkgo help in the treatment of other long term effects of diabetes such as heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and elevated cholesterol levels. Onion has been known to free up insulin, thus lowering blood glucose levels. One study showed that diabetics who had a powdered form of burdock after a starchy meal had a lowered incidence of hyperglycemia (Medical Advisor 321).
Perhaps the most non-chemical, non-herbal aid in fighting diabetes is life style. Diabetes like many other chronic illnesses can benefit from reduced levels of stress, increased levels of exercise, and overall well being. Tests have proven that diabetics under stress often eat more, and sometimes forget to take their insulin. However, there is also evidence that stress directly creates physiological changes that make the diabetes worse. Tests have shown that during periods of high anxiety, the body produces large quantities of the stress hormones to provide extra energy for battling the source of the stress. One of the major components of this activity is increased blood sugar level. In normal people, the sugar is readily used by the cells as extra fuel, but in diabetics, it simply accumulates in the blood, aggravating the condition (MIND BODY 134-135).
Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, the most common remedy for diabetes was rest. Therefore, the use of relaxation and biofeedback techniques are common tools known to lower levels of stress hormone, and thereby reducing levels of blood sugar. However, these tools has not proven effective in people with Type I diabetes, only those with Type 2 have benefited. The bottom line is that high levels of stress have physiological effects that influence glucose metabolism and can increase blood sugar levels, making diabetes more difficult to control (MIND BODY 141).
Diet is the central control point for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. A diabetic diet needs to be customized to individual calorie and nutritional needs. In general, however, experts have found that diets that are low fat and fiber-rich work the best. Diets high in starches help the body process glucose more efficiently. Foods that are rich in soluble fiber slow the absorption of food into the blood – thus helping to prevent sharp swings in blood sugar levels. If a diet is low in fat, the body doesn’t have to work as hard to metabolize the fat, so there is more freedom to concentrate on processing carbohydrates. And lastly, the high- fiber low-fat diet generally promotes weight loss, which in turn lessens the severity of diabetes (Healing Foods 176-177).
Exercise has been shown to increase the tissue levels of chromium, which the body uses to regulate blood glucose and cholesterol levels. For those with Type 1 diabetes, exercise has been found to increase the body’s ability to use available insulin so that fewer insulin injections are needed. Type 2 diabetics often benefit from moderate exercise, but should avoid heavy lifting and straining. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which could aggravate diabetic retinopathy.
The relationship between stress and bodily function has been studied for many years. Yet, there is little proof that stress can lead to diabetes. Genetics is more likely the cause. However strong the notion that personality trait cannot cause diabetes, there are many experiments that suggest that there is a strong mind/body connection with diabetes. For example, a person who is shy and withdrawn may not have the curiosity about the world, and therefore be less likely to adhere to a strict care regiment. Likewise, people who are aggressive, hostile, or urgent, may experience more problems from diabetes during times of stress (Mind Body 139-140).
Despite current trends to self-treat bodily malfunctions with diet, vitamins, exercise, and relaxation, strong cautions are warranted in relation to diabetes. First, no change in prescribed medication should be undertaken without a consultation with your doctor. But, any diabetic wishing to better control their disease needs to first look at basic, fundamental lifestyle changes, all of which promote good health. A doctor specializing in functional medicine or nutritional medicine is a good source for finding a combination approach to healthy living. Given the proper regimen of medication, diet and exercise, even a Type I diabetic can reduce medication levels by following natural, holistic, cost-effective approaches to the treatment of diabetes (Null 300-301).
The bottom line – addressing the actual causes of diabetes rather than attempting to invasively overpower the symptoms, can lead to a healthier, more active life for the millions of people who suffer from diabetes (Null 305).