Lets start with a discussion about what diabetes is
Diabetes mellitus (or just “diabetes”) is a metabolic disorder associated with elevated blood glucose. Normally, we take in glucose from the stomach when we eat foods containing carbohydrates. The glucose elevation triggers the islet cells in the pancreas to put out a hormone known as insulin. Insulin binds to cells in the body allowing the cells to take up the glucose to use as fuel for cells.
Without insulin production or with insulin resistance, glucose cannot get into the cells, which do not get enough nutrients and the sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream elevates, damaging organs and blood vessels. This is when diabetes occurs.
Two Types of Diabetes
The first is type 1 diabetes, which is considered an autoimmune disease where the body makes antibodies that destroy the islet cells of the pancreas, leading to very low insulin levels and extremely high blood sugar (glucose) levels. Once the death of the islet cells occurs, the process is irreversible.
The patient’s only recourse is to take shots of short, medium, and/or long acting insulin to make up for the insulin the body doesn’t make. Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as insulin dependent.
The second is called type 2 diabetes. In this type of diabetes, the individual makes enough insulin; however, the cells become resistant to it and even with elevated insulin levels, not enough glucose enters the cells. The blood sugar rises and causes the same complications as type 1 diabetes.
Fortunately, this type of diabetes can be treated with medication, healthy lifestyle choices, and other natural therapies. Type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1 can be reversed, with weight loss and healthy diet.
Diagnosis Of Type 2 Diabetes
Diagnosis of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes is made by a doctor, and is based on a blood test known as the Hemoglobin A1C. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, lab analysis of blood is required to ensure accurate results.
While glucose-measuring devices (finger stick tests pictured on the left) either used at home or at the doctor’s office can be used to track and manage blood glucose on a regular basis, they are not accurate enough for diagnosis.
The A1C became the standard test for the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in 2009 and is reported as a percentage:
• Normal reading is below 5.7%
• 5.7% to 6.4% indicates prediabetes, and those with a reading above 6.0% are considered at a very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes
• Any reading over 6.5% means a person has diabetes
Risk Factors For Type 2 Diabetes
Anyone can get type 2 diabetes, but certain high risk factors exist:
People age 45 and older
Those who are obese or overweight with a BMI or 35 or more
Those who have had gestational diabetes
When type 2 diabetes runs in the family
Those who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes
Poor lifestyle choices, like unhealthy diet and lack of exercise
Those who have low HDL (good) cholesterol or high triglycerides
Those who have high blood pressure
African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are at higher risk for contracting this disease
Diabetes can occur at any age. The numbers below as reported by the American Diabetes Association, the Diabetes Prevention Program and other government authorities show the staggering prevalence of diabetes, and specifically the preventable type 2 diabetes which accounts for most of the cases in the United States.
29.1 million adults in the United States have diabetes, of those 90% to 95% are diagnosed with type 2. This equates to 1 in 10 adults age 20 to 64.
Diabetes incidence increases with age. About 26% of people 65 years of age or older have diabetes, this equates to 1 in 4 senior adults.
Of the 29 million diabetics, only 21 million have been diagnosed and 8 million remain undiagnosed and have no idea they have the disease.
86 million people age 20 years had pre-diabetes as far back as 2012. Pre-diabetes is the occurrence of insulin resistance and mildly elevated levels of blood sugar but not enough to meet the criteria for diabetes. If a person who is diagnosed with pre-diabetes continues an unhealthy lifestyle that promotes it, they can easily tip the scales toward the diagnosis of diabetes.
Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. Diabetes alone is the cause of death in about 69,000 people per year. It is listed as a contributing factor toward death in another 234,000 death certificates.
The incidence of diabetes varies among different ethnic groups. It makes up 7.6% of the population in Caucasians and 9% of the Asian population. The rates of diabetes are higher in non-Hispanic blacks at 13.2% and American Indians or Alaskan natives at 15.9%.
9.2% of pregnancies are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 35% to 60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 10 to 20 years following the pregnancy.
Health Consequences Of Diabetes
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, the result is high circulating blood sugars. Elevated blood sugars are not healthy for the organs and blood vessels of the body. The phenomenon of high blood sugar causes blockages of the tiny and large blood vessels of the body, damaging organs and causing several possible complications.
Heart Disease And Stroke
Diabetics die not because of simple high blood sugar, but because of heart disease or stroke. According to the World Health Organization, 50% of diabetics die from heart disease or stroke. According to the American Diabetes Association, 71% of adults with diabetes also have hypertension.
Diabetes is often associated with high cholesterol and triglycerides, which promote the formation of plaques on the walls of the arteries. These plaques begin to grow and restrict blood flow, especially to the brain and in the small vessels supplying the circulation to the heart. With enough blockage, the heart, or brain do not get enough oxygen and parts of these organs die off. If enough of the heart or brain dies off, the person dies of either a stroke of the brain or a heart attack.
Excess blood sugar spills out into the urine, which overloads the kidneys. If the kidneys become overworked from too much blood sugar, kidney failure can happen. Diabetes can also affect the blood vessels of the kidney so that the kidney does not get enough circulation. When the kidneys fail, excess fluid develops in the body and the kidneys cannot catch up. If the kidneys cannot do the job of getting rid of the waste products of the body, the toxins build up and the individual will need a kidney transplant or permanent kidney dialysis. Kidney failure can be a cause of death in diabetics, and 44% of all kidney failures in 2011 were the result of diabetes.
Diabetes can cause blindness by causing the tiny vessels of the retina or back of the eye to rupture and spill blood across the retinal surface; this condition is called diabetic retinopathy and leads to blind spots in vision and eventually to total blindness. Doctors have ways of coagulating the blood in the vessels using a laser; however, this does not cure the underlying process and blindness is simply delayed unless the diabetic gets the blood sugars under control.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Diabetics risk a loss of limbs, particularly the lower extremities. It can come from plaque build-up in the large arteries supplying the leg or in the smaller vessels, such as in the feet. If the blockage is significant, gangrene of the feet and legs can occur so that the gangrenous part needs to be amputated.
According to the Centers For Disease Control, 60% of all non-traumatic amputations of lower limbs occur in people with diabetes due to nerve damage. This can severely limit the diabetic’s mobility and may confine them to a wheel chair.
High blood sugar damages the peripheral nerves of the body. It begins with burning or tingling of the feet and progresses to similar feelings in the hands. The feet or hands can feel cold or very painful. Isolated nerves elsewhere in the body can become inflamed by high blood sugar and the situation can become extremely painful. There are medications that can control some of the symptoms but it is also a good idea to have the diabetes in better control so that the nerves have a chance to recover.
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetics have two times the risk of death from any cause as compared to people of the same age without diabetes.
Healthy diet and exercise can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by 58% in those ages 59 or younger and by 71% in those ages 60 or older. Just a 5% to 7% percent loss in body weight can prevent and delay onset of type 2 diabetes indefinitely.
Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes
Typically, many people who have this disease may not experience symptoms. This is why it is very important to get blood work if you have any risk factors that can identify elevated blood sugar levels, and to get blood work as you age as part of routine preventative care.
If symptoms do occur, they vary from one person to another and include:
Nausea and/or vomiting
Fatigue and weakness
Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
Frequent infections of the urinary tract, skin, or vagina
Sores that won’t heal or heal very slow
The complications of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are directly related to sustained high blood sugars and can happen over years of uncontrolled diabetes. Type 1 diabetics have no real choice other than to take in enough insulin to combat the high blood sugar and to watch the amount of sugar they take in.
Type 2 diabetes is, however, manageable with good eating habits, exercise to burn fuel, medications to lower insulin resistance and by using various natural therapies. Type 2 diabetics have more personal control over their future because diet and exercise can greatly affect the amount of sugar circulating in the blood. No amount of lifestyle changes will cure diabetes of either type but at least with type 2 diabetes, some of the complications can be overcome and the sufferer can avoid the side effect diseases, and live a long and relatively healthy life.
According to the Diabetes Prevention Program, up to 85% of complications and death related to diabetes can be delayed, prevented, or treated with regular medical care, healthy diet, exercise, and careful monitoring of blood sugar levels.
Alternative Treatments And Complementary Care
Conventional medical doctors will offer treatments available in traditional medicine for any conditions their patients suffer from, and that includes diabetes. Alternative therapies, when used in conjunction with conventional medicine is a practice known as complementary medicine, also referred to as integrative care.
Instead of replacing conventional medicine, various natural therapies are used in
conjunction to complement that care. This provides for a well-rounded course of treatment
that can enhance the patient’s well-being and improve the diabetic outlook.
There are many effective natural treatments for diabetes that fall under complementary care, and many people have found them to be a great asset to their medical regimen. More and more patients are seeking natural therapies that can improve their blood sugar counts and to possibly reverse type 2 diabetes.
Holistic medicine is a practice that treats the person as a whole, including, mind, body and soul, as opposed to simply treating a specific disease or its symptoms as is often the case in conventional medicine.
Type 2 diabetes patients are some of the best candidates for the holistic approach because the disease is highly manageable. Its management is key to preventing many of the complications and comorbidities associated with diabetes, like heart disease, amputations, diabetic retinopathy, kidney disease, depression, and stroke that often result from long periods of out of control blood sugar.
A holistic practitioner is a healthcare provider that works in partnership with their patients to encourage and facilitate a holistic approach to wellness. These professionals are sometimes medical doctors themselves that take a holistic approach to treatment, or they will work with your doctor while recommending complementary therapies in conjunction with conventional medical care.
A holistic practitioner can identify the specific needs of a patient and either administer (depending on their expertise) appropriate therapies or make appropriate recommendations.
No matter the approach or the recommended therapies, the goal is always the same to ensure overall wellness for the patient, which will include physical, emotional, and mental components.
Those with diabetes can benefit greatly from this type of approach, and some may find they no longer require prescription medication.
Natural Complementary Therapies For Diabetes
People with diabetes seek relief from their symptoms in a variety of ways, and all natural therapies described here may be of great help in managing this serious disease. They do not have to replace conventional medical care; they can complement it in order to provide a holistic and comprehensive approach to treatment.
Any safe and natural therapy that can help manage blood sugars and prevent the serious complications of diabetes should be investigated and considered.
Many of these natural methods also reduce stress and support overall wellbeing, and when balance and wellbeing is achieved overall, it naturally extends to any conditions one may suffer from, including type 2 diabetes.
Seek the guidance of a doctor or a holistic practitioner to choose appropriate complementary therapies that are safe and appropriate for you, your condition, and any medications you may be taking.