The body is an exquisite machine that calibrates all measures of health towards balance. One such measure of health is Blood sugar.
The body is engaged in a constant game of see-saw between the hormone insulin and glucagon to help maintain blood sugar within normal limits. If the blood sugar becomes too low, it can cause loss of function of many organs, including the brain; if the blood sugar is too high, it can be poisonous to many organs, because it forms excess of glucose and ketones. For this reason, the dance of insulin and glucagon in the body is a requirement for survival.
Pancreas is the central organ for helping to maintain blood sugar, because it is the source of the hormones insulin and glucagon. Insulin functions in the body to drive sugar into the cells, thus providing them energy and lowering concentration of blood sugar. Glucagon is released when the blood sugar is too low; it stimulates release of stored sugar from liver and muscles, as well as fat from adipose tissues.
The opposing actions of these hormones maintain healthy blood sugar within a fairly narrow range. Injury to the pancreas or dysfunction of the insulin receptors can cause severe breakdown of the blood sugar management system of the body.
As many as 29.1 million Americans are currently facing this type of breakdown in blood sugar management. All of these people are diagnosed with a disease called diabetes mellitus, or commonly known as diabetes.
While this number represents over 10% of the population, additional 86 million Americans are believed to have pre-diabetes. That is, over 1/3 (or 1 in 3) Americans are at the brink of developing diabetes; these people have “pre-diabetes”. These alarming statistics are a wake-up call for Americans with regards to unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits.
The Nature of Diabetes
Diabetes comes in two main forms: Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 and Diabetes Mellitus Type 2. In both types, effective activity of the hormone Insulin is depleted, but for different reasons. Let’s take a closer look:
Type 1 Diabetes mellitus
In this disease, the immune system begins attacking the pancreas. This auto-immune reaction leads to cellular destruction. The damage to β-cells begins to inhibit the insulin production of the pancreas. Over time, the productive capacity of pancreas dips to levels where it cannot make adequate insulin to control blood sugar. Therefore, the person becomes susceptible to problems with high blood sugar.
Type 2 Diabetes mellitus
This disorder is the true indicator for our unhealthy habits. Here, the over activity of insulin over many years begins to exhaust the insulin receptors. Overtime, the normal cellular response to insulin is diminished. As a result, the cells are unable to absorb sugar from the blood stream to make energy. While cells are starved for sugar, high blood sugar continues to create additional problems for the body.
The sustained high blood sugar level proves poisonous to the body. Sugar that is stuck in the blood stream cannot be digested. Therefore the body makes alternative metabolites of sugar, like ketones and alcohols. These are acidic products that affect the composition of the whole physiology of the body.
While insulin is still effective, high level of blood sugar is also driven into the cells. This affects the homeostatic balance of the cells and disrupts normal function. This causes symptoms like excess urination, excessive thirst, and increased appetite. Overtime, high blood sugar causes significant deposits of glucose on blood cells, nerve cells, kidney cells, and other organs. This leads to complication like nerve damage, kidney damage, breakdown of small blood vessels, and suppression of the immune system. Excessive glucose is converted into triglycerides, which contributes to elevation cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Excessive conversion of sugar to triglycerides can lead to fat build-up and fat deposit on various organs, including liver, pancreas, kidneys, heart, etc. These fat deposits impair function of each of these organs and contribute to the problem. High glucose also causes excessive oxidation in the body. Combined with high triglycerides, oxidation causes plaque formation in the blood vessels leading to cardiovascular diseases.
Altogether, Diabetes is an insidious disease that can develop due to unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. Because of its quiet nature, diabetes can go undetected for a long time. Once the disease is discovered, recovering health can be a challenging journey. A comprehensive Ayurvedic approach is the ideal way to optimize the healing mechanisms of the body, while blocking the pathological patterns.
Dietary and Lifestyle approaches to balancing blood sugar
First and foremost, it is essential to change one’s relationship with food. Considering the adverse effect of excessive triglycerides and obesity on diabetic patients, healthy weight management is considered the primary intervention in medicine. Having moderate amount of food that meets caloric needs without raising blood sugar too excessively is ideal for the diabetic patient. Following are some recommendations that can be easily adopted:
- Eating equal amount of protein-to-carbohydrate ratio can help to reduce glucose load as protein breaks down slower than carbs.
- For example, with one ounce of protein (light meat or beans), combine one ounce of vegetables (a healthy source of carbs.)
- Another way to reduce carbs is to replace white rice with quinoa or buckwheat.
- Eat small and regular meals: having 4-5 small meals spread throughout the day can be helpful to minimize glucose load with each meal.
- Balance each of the main meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner with equal amount of protein-to-carb. Also, reduce the overall portion size of each meal.
- Add in 2 snack meals between breakfast—lunch—dinner. One snack may be a 1-2 servings of fruits. The second snack can be protein-rich, like 1-2 handfuls of raw tree nuts, 1-2 tablespoons of hummus or 1 tablespoon of deli meat or cheese.
- Alternate between a variety of foods:
- Tree nuts: almond, cashews, walnuts, pistachio, pecans, brazil nuts, etc.
- Seeds: flax seeds, sunflowers seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Eat seasonal vegetables and fruits.
- Exercise is one of the best ways of revving up body’s capacity to deal with excessive sugar.
- Weight bearing exercise help to increase the mass of insulin receptor in muscles. Sugar that is driven into muscle tissue is stored as glycogen and released overtime, helping control sugar crash. Weight bearing exercise also increases general exercising capacity.
- Yoga has been shown to improve outcome in patients with diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiovascular disease. In addition to muscles, yoga also causes contraction and relaxation of internal organs, thus improving circulation in and activity of these organs.
- Walking has been shown to reduce risk complications and death related to diabetes. Research shows, up to 57% reduction risk of cardiovascular disease and 46% reduction in death related to cardiovascular disease in diabetic patients.
- Deep breathing is a thermo-genic activity, meaning it increases metabolism. This is indicated by an enhanced digestive fire on every tissue level. In order to further enhance this effect to optimize metabolism, Ayurveda recommends incorporating fire breath into daily practice.
Herbal Support for Diabetes
Gymnema sylvestre, Gurmar: this plant has been proven to have healing effects on the pancreas. It helps to regenerate β-cells in the pancreas, which secrete insulin into the body. Increased insulin contributes to blood sugar control from using Gurmar. Among insulin dependent patients, Gymnema has been shown to reduce insulin requirement while reducing overall blood sugar, compared to insulin-dependent controls.
Gymnema has been the subject of considerable research since the 1930s, which revealed its effectiveness in treating both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes…Another anti-diabetic effect of gymnema is that it negates the taste of sugar, which has the effect of suppressing and neutralizing the craving for sweets.
“Ayurvedic Herbs: The Comprehensive Resource for Ayurvedic Healing Solutions”
By Virender Sodhi MD(Ayurved), ND
Azadiratcha indica, Neem: Anti-diabetic effects of this versatile herb have proven in animal and human studies alike. Neem is a bitter herb that has the capacity to stimulate the pancreas, improving its digestive and insulin-producing activity. Neem has proven effective in individual with insulin-dependent diabetes to reduce dosage by 30-50%. This herb is also quite safe and effect when combined with oral hypoglycemic drugs. Therefore, it is useful to provide more effective glucose control without need to add on drugs.
Ocimum sanctum, Holy basil: This plant is central to many ceremonial and religious activities in Indian culture. In additional to the Spiritual significance, the value of holy basil comes from its versatile medicinal activities. For the diabetic patient, holy basil has been shown to contribute toward blood glucose control. It also has an anti-oxidant effect that protects all organs of the body from gluco-toxic oxidative damage. Holy basil helps to replenish anti-oxidant enzyme in the body, while putting a cap on inflammation.18,19 In this way, holy basil helps in preventing complications related to diabetes.
Mormordica charantia, Bitter melon: research has shown this herb to be effective for promoting insulin release, as well as insulin sensitivity. Thus, it is helpful in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients. Bitter melon carries insulin-like peptides that mimic the activity of physiological insulin to promote additional blood sugar control. Bitter melon was also found to be as much or more effective than oral anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone (Avandia), while having none of the side effects.
An unusual-looking fruit, bitter melon resembles a cucumber covered with hard bumps. Its firm fruit covers bright red seeds, which are inedible. When steeped in salt water, the fruit loses its bitter taste. The fruit also may be pickled and used as a relish. Bitter melon is highly recommended for treating diabetes, both as part of the general diet and in the form of an extract or as a herbal tea made from the leaf.
“Ayurvedic Herbs: The Comprehensive Resource for Ayurvedic Healing Solutions”
By Virender Sodhi ND
As it is true with all chronic diseases, the holistic approach provides the greatest chance of restoring normal function to the digestive system. At our clinic, we have managed to reverse many cases of diabetes. Anti-diabetic protocol has been successfully used to remove dependence on toxic anti-diabetic drugs, while reducing the risk of developing diabetic complications like kidney failure, vision loss, and heart disease.
Effective healing requires a great deal of work from the patients. The rewards of health, vitality, and longevity are the fruit of such hard work.
Dr. Anup Mulakaluri, ND provided for technical and research assistance in writing this article.
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