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Natural Diabetes Solutions

June 26, 2017 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Like so many of my patients, you probably know your cholesterol levels, and you might even recall your last blood pressure reading. But what about your blood sugar levels? Do you know your A1C? Just as importantly, do you know how to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar (also known as glucose)?

If not, don’t be embarrassed. I blame the medical establishment’s obsession with cholesterol levels – even though those figures are far from the whole story on heart health. But nearly every day, I am reminded of how little attention most people pay to blood sugar numbers – until they become insulin resistant (also known as pre-diabetic) or develop full-blown diabetes.

Most patients shrug off a diagnosis of elevated blood sugar, in spite of the fact that it is a serious condition that will become diabetes unless you change your ways. For example, it’s well established that diabetes damages the delicate endothelial cells that line all of our blood vessels. This enables plaque to build up, eventually leading to cardiovascular disease. But that process begins, long before a diabetes diagnosis, with elevated blood sugar. So, even if your cholesterol levels are perfect or close to it, high levels of blood glucose could be harming your heart and blood vessels.

As a practicing physician, I see plenty of indications that glucose management is a problem.  Excess weight, especially around the waist, is one red flag. But I check all my patients’ glucose levels because an individual of normal weight can have glucose management problems, too. I look for elevated blood sugar and then check for two or more of these symptoms:

  • Extreme thirst
  • High levels of triglycerides (a fat found in the bloodstream)
  • Cravings for carbohydrates and sweets
  • Low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), also known as good cholesterol
  • Repeated infections, including flu and yeast infections in women
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Difficulty thinking, foggy brain
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Vision disorders
  • Repeated need to urinate
  • Sexual dysfunction in men

Having only three of these markers is enough for a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. These symptoms show that your body is losing its sensitivity to insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin’s primary job is to escort glucose, converted from the food you eat, into your cells, where it is used for energy production. If the cells refuse to take on more glucose (either because they already have plenty or due to insulin resistance), it is stored as fat for later use.

For people eating a moderate amount of well-balanced calories – in other words, eating a reasonable amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates for their activity level – insulin resistance is not normally an issue. But for people who snack throughout the day or consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates, like fast food and sugary beverages, or who frequently overeat, the amount of glucose in the body can be overwhelming.

In those cases, the pancreas may not be able to maintain insulin production. Or the cells could reject insulin’s attempts to force more glucose into them. The end result is too much glucose in the bloodstream and not enough in the cells. The excess glucose, as well as the insulin in the blood stream, damages the linings of your arteries – and this is the beginning of cardiovascular disease.

Excess glucose is a huge problem for Americans. The average American consumes about 180 pounds of sugar each year. That’s roughly one-half pound of sugar every single day, a tremendous increase from just over a century ago, when consumption was a measly one pound annually.

As you may know, sugar contains absolutely no nutrition. It is one of the key reasons nearly 70% of the country is overweight or obese. Sugar is also one of the driving forces behind nearly 30 million cases of diabetes and another 80 million cases of pre-diabetes.

But diabetes and obesity are far from the only health concerns linked to sugar. Scientists have known for years that sugar also feeds cancer, a disease that will afflict one in two Americans during their lifetime and currently claims more than half a million lives each year. Similarly, recent research has found that people with blood-sugar levels lower than the threshold for diabetes are also at increased risk for dementia. So even if your blood glucose level says “normal,” you’re not off the risk hook for dementia and you may still be at higher risk than people with lower levels than yours.

As if that’s not bad enough, a recent study showed that diabetics develop serious heart complications; however, women tend to develop serious heart complications more often than men.

This study followed 680 diabetic patients (56 percent men, 44 percent women). Researchers compared blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C levels between the sexes. They found that women had significantly worse systolic blood pressure (the first of the two numbers in a reading). The women’s LDL (“bad”) cholesterol readings were much higher, too—by an average of 12 mg/dL. Overall, the women had a harder time keeping all three factors (blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C) in healthy ranges.

Why do women fare so much worse than men? A couple factors could be to blame. First, studies show that doctors tend to (mistakenly) treat women less aggressively for heart disease. Second, thanks to a natural drop in estrogen, women experience a spike in inflammation as they age. (Estrogen acts as a natural anti-inflammatory.) This surge in inflammation affects how efficiently the body uses insulin and influences blood pressure and cholesterol.

I can’t say it enough—man or woman, if you have diabetes, you must control it to limit your risk of complications. And you’ll be happy to learn that there are safe, simple, inexpensive ways to do just that–without drugs, risks or side-effects.

Keep Yourself Healthy with Natural Diabetes Solutions

Maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose (sugar) is a keystone of good health. In moderation, glucose is not a bad thing. In fact, it is essential to good health. Every cell in the body uses glucose to produce energy, and it’s particularly important for the brain, the biggest glucose consumer of all. But, as is true for so many things, excessive glucose can be harmful. An overabundance of glucose can lead to weight gain, as well as insulin resistance.

To help you in your battle against glucose, here are some tried-and-true tactics you can use to maintain healthy glucose levels throughout the day.

Eat whole foods. Get in the habit of building meals around whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, and lean protein. That means skipping prepared, processed foods and the long list of chemicals required to create them. Ideally, you should be eating food that has no ingredient list on the wrapper. This may take some getting used to, but it can be done. As my patient Greg told me, “The first month or so was hard. I really missed the frozen microwaved meals. Then one night I got home late from work and didn’t feel like cooking, so I popped a frozen sandwich in the microwave. I started to eat it, but all I could taste was salt. Then I read the ingredient label on the package. There were only a couple words in there that I recognized. So I threw the sandwich away and made myself a salad. It took a few extra minutes, but at least I didn’t feel like I was filling myself full of chemicals.”

Start the day with some protein. Loading up on quickly digested carbohydrates (bread, pastries, and fruit) first thing in the morning leads to a surge of glucose and a spike in insulin levels, two things you do not want. Protein — from egg whites or whey protein powder, for example — provides the balance needed for healthy metabolism and helps prevent hunger later. I recommend balancing your diet this way throughout the day to maintain healthy glucose levels.

Eat less, more often. Divide your targeted calorie intake by the number of scaled-down mini-meals you would like to eat each day. For example, a 2,000-calorie diet of 5 mini-meals equals 400 calories per meal. This method helps many of my patients avoid the energy highs and lows that so often accompany glucose problems. Often, patient’s report that mini-meals help stop diet-derailing hunger pangs, too. Shelley, a long-time patient who was heading toward a diabetes diagnosis, found that mini-meals helped her avoid the bingeing that was ruining her health. “I was skipping breakfast and lunch to lose weight,” she explained, “but instead I would be starving before dinner and wolf down an entire bag of bagel chips or cookies. Very counter-productive, because I was actually gaining weight instead of losing. The mini-meals keep me going all day, and I have way more energy, too.”

Go Mediterranean. Studies repeatedly show impressive health benefits from the so-called Mediterranean diet, including a reduced risk of developing heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and seeds. These filling, nutritious, high-fiber foods digest slowly, helping you maintain healthy glucose levels while enjoying flavorful meals. In addition, substitute seafood for red meat most days, and purchase a good-quality extra virgin olive oil to use in place of conventional cooking oils. Patients on the Mediterranean diet report feeling healthier than ever and often drop pounds without really trying.

Drink up. As regular readers know, I wish more people would make fresh, filtered water their first choice of beverage. Unfortunately, we’re surrounded by sodas, juices, energy drinks, and custom coffee with as many calories as an entire meal. The simple carbohydrates in these beverages can send blood glucose levels soaring, while providing you with exactly nothing in the way of benefits. That’s why I recommend green tea as a flavorful alternative to junk drinks. A significant body of research shows that two to four cups of green tea every day helps prevent high blood sugar from damaging organs throughout the body. As a bonus, green tea also revs up metabolism and promotes weight loss. If you’re not fond of the taste of green tea, try the fruit-flavored versions that provide a hint of sweetness without sugar.

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Make time to exercise. Schedule 30- to 45-minute daily walks inside or out, depending on weather. Taking several short (10- to 15-minute) walks after eating is another option. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, so it helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels while also assisting with weight management, heart health, circulation, and so much more. If it’s tough to squeeze exercise into your calendar, here’s some good news: Two recent studies show that very short exercise sessions benefit glucose management by reducing insulin resistance and other prediabetes markers. Both studies involve high-intensity interval training on stationary bicycles. In one, people in the study exercised three times weekly for 10 minutes at a time. During the 10-minute sessions, they increased intensity and to “all out” — but only for 10, 20, or 30 seconds at a time. Even with this minimal amount of exercise — just 30 minutes total per week! — Insulin sensitivity increased by an impressive 28 percent, and aerobic capacity improved as well. An earlier, related study had similar results.

If you have not been exercising, have your physician give you the go-ahead before starting any type of workout, whether it’s daily walking or brief, high-intensity interval training. Even with a doctor’s permission, sedentary individuals should start exercising slowly to avoid injuries and work gradually toward more fast-paced routines.

Minimize stress. It’s hard to overestimate the role of stress in glucose imbalance. When you’re stressed, all you may be thinking about is the terrible driver who nearly forced you off the road. But inside your body, even worse things are happening. Inflammation increases and insulin resistance rises, throwing glucose management into turmoil. These days, we repeatedly face stressful situations our bodies are not prepared to handle. That’s why I urge my patients to look into relaxation and stress-management techniques and use them on a regular basis. Some people find that yoga or tai chi works best, while others tell me that they feel less stressed when they take a few brisk walks throughout the day. If those options aren’t practical for you, consider massage, meditation, breathing exercises, dance, music or art therapy, or self-hypnosis. My patients Marsha and Stanley found that having a massage therapist come to their condo each week was not an extravagant indulgence but a real boon to their health. “Massage helps me relax so well that I wouldn’t quit now for anything,” Stan said. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.”

Take supplements. Look into natural remedies. Recent research shows that certain natural supplements can make a big difference in your body’s response to glucose. Below are just a few supplements that help maintain healthy glucose levels and improve insulin resistance:

CoQ10: A recent study has confirmed what many medical experts have suspected for a while, that CoQ10 is a great way to combat diabetes. Specifically, if you already have diabetes, CoQ10 reduces your blood-sugar level. That’s a huge chunk of the battle. And even if you don’t have diabetes, CoQ10 helps your body deal with sugar more efficiently, and lowers your insulin levels. This doesn’t mean CoQ10 by itself is a cure for diabetes. But it certainly can help you treat the disease—and, in some cases, can actually help reverse some of its worst symptoms.  I recommend taking 100 IU daily, never exceeding 800 IU a day.

CurcuminCurcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, was tested for its ability to improve insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar in a group of pre-diabetic patients. In the group of more than 100 people taking curcumin supplements, there were no new cases of diabetes during the nine-month-long study. And here’s another huge benefit that cropped up in a second human clinical trial: daily curcumin supplements were found to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides at the same time. I tell my patients to take 500 to 2,000 mg of curcumin daily. For best effect, look for a product with enhanced bioavailability.

Berberine: Berberine is a yellow alkaloid—a compound found in many different types of plants. Everything from tree turmeric, to goldenseal and goldthread, to philodendrons, to European barberry. It’s long been found in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and as we research just what berberine can do, it’s easy to see why. Berberine has a profound effect upon AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a protein very involved in regulating your metabolism. When AMPK is activated, it helps us in a myriad number of ways. It stimulates the uptake of glucose in your cells, lowering your blood sugar. Doubling the effect, it also reduces the production of glucose in the liver. And it increases your insulin sensitivity. Put together, berberine has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels up to 57%, making it a godsend for diabetics. Best of all, it achieves these miracles without serious side effects. About the worst thing that happens is cramping or constipation when taking 1000 mg or more in a single dose. That’s why I recommend taking smaller doses several times a day—500 mg twice or thrice, for instance.

Similarly, the Glycemic Index (GI) can be very helpful when dealing with blood sugar management. The glycemic index is an objective way to measure the impact of various carbohydrates on your blood sugar (glucose) levels. It does not focus on carbs because they are necessarily “bad.” It’s just that fat and protein don’t elevate blood sugar as much as carbs do. So the glycemic index helps you avoid or cut back on foods that raise your blood sugar the most, something that’s very important to anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes, or who’s trying to lose weight.

The GI uses a scale that goes from 100 to 1. Pure glucose is at the top with a score of 100. Foods with a GI above 70 fall into the high GI category. These include potatoes, bread (white, wheat, and made from gluten-free alternatives like rice), corn chips and corn flakes, rice cakes, candy, honey, and watermelon.

At the low end of the GI scale (0 to 55), you’ll find most fruit and non-starchy vegetables, long grain rice, low-fat yogurt, and 100% whole grain pasta. In the middle (56 to 69), there’s brown rice, macaroni and cheese, kidney beans, potato chips, sweet corn, and even oatmeal cookies! The best way to use the GI is by combining it with a second, related measure, one that helps you maintain healthy blood glucose levels without sacrificing all the foods you love.

Beating Diabetes Involves Major Lifestyle Changes

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic ailment – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, etc. – that means that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. Medication may be necessary – at least for a time. But please don’t expect a pill to correct years of sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and all the rest. That, my friends, is something only you can do.

One of the most difficult aspects of living with diabetes is figuring out what to eat, especially for anyone new to healthy meals. I’m happy to report that researchers are turning up some good news on that front. For example, one study found that a diet of fresh vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruit, and lean protein prevented soaring glucose levels and insulin resistance after eating. The reason? High levels of health-promoting antioxidants in the food. More good news: those same antioxidants also help protect us against some of the most serious diseases out there, including heart disease, dementia, and cancer.

I highly recommend using fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, rather than canned. Most canned goods contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), the hormone-disrupting chemical also found in plastic. Researchers believe there is a link between BPA and elevated blood glucose levels.

Even all those friendly, seemingly healthy fruit and veggie drinks are devils in disguise. Yes, whole fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. Their skin, seeds, and flesh are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fiber, and a zillion other nutrients. But if you squeeze out the juice and toss the rest, all you get is a great-tasting drink that’s loaded with sugar. Yes, it’s “naturally occurring” sugar. But it’s just as dangerous as refined sugar. Boil that juice down and you’ve got…syrup.

Your most important escape route is to escape the shelves. Eat only local, fresh, and organic—multiple daily doses of fruits and veggies give you all the natural sugars your body needs. And, of course, you get all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients that get stripped away between the natural source and the shelves.

If you need a sweetener, stick with Stevia, a plant originally grown in Brazil and Paraguay, where it’s been used as a sweetener for centuries. The Stevia extract we can buy is 200–300 times sweeter than white table sugar. Like honey, a little goes a long way, which is how you should use it—in moderation. Meanwhile, on the snack front, consider trading high-carbohydrate fare like chips, cookies, and crackers for two ounces of mixed nuts, preferably unsalted, non-irradiated, dry roasted, or raw. A recent clinical trial found that mixed nut snacks significantly reduced blood glucose levels, something a candy bar will never do for you.

Multiple major diet plans have been found to be beneficial food guidelines for diabetics, including the Mediterranean Diet, the South Beach Diet, Raw Food and Vegetarian Diet, MyPyramid Diet Plan, and the Atkins Diet. You can read more about these in an excerpt from Gene Bruno’s “A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes: Using Natural Supplements, Nutrition, and Alternative Therapies to Better Manage Your Diabetes.

A second change for individuals with diabetes is activity level. For that, I recommend at least 30 minutes of movement, preferably something you enjoy that’s active enough for you to break a sweat, nearly every day of the week. Exercise is a topic near and dear to my heart because I’ve seen it turn so many lives around

The third area that may need change is sleep. For diabetics, too little sleep can disrupt blood sugar levels. And people who aren’t sleeping well are prone to make poor food choices, like a 400-calorie coffee drink to make up for lost sleep. And keep in mind that the hormone melatonin, known for its link to sleep, can be helpful for older individuals with diabetes, as well.

As a physician, I’m well aware that it can be difficult for people to change lifelong habits, particularly when diet and exercise are involved. Taking a pill would be so much easier. But the truth is, there’s no pill that can cure an unhealthy lifestyle – and I doubt there ever will be one. It’s up to each and every one of us to be our own best friends and do everything we can to stay healthy. Change may be hard, but the end result is definitely worth it.

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