Diabetes and diet supplements

By: Dr. Claudia Truglia, Jul 27, 2012
Diabetes and diet supplements | Stoney Creek Natural Wellness Center – Dr. Claudia Truglia

Do diet supplements help bring diabetes under control?

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, 80 to 90 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

More than 9 million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Ninety per cent of diabetics suffer from Type 2 diabetes, which is a disease that can be successfully prevented. Diabetes is known as the silent killer because people typically don’t experience any symptoms.

Type 2 diabetes occurs mostly in adults (although more childhood cases are arising) and is a result of the pancreas not producing enough insulin or your body not properly using the insulin it makes. Insulin helps to control the levels of glucose in your bloodstream.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, 80 to 90 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

It is very important for diabetics to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels so that medications or treatment can be adjusted. Take Julia, a 55-year-old patient with Type 2 diabetes. Julia had been taking diabetes medication for 10 years, however, she rarely checked her blood glucose levels except at her twice yearly doctor visits. Julia said she feared seeing a high blood glucose reading, so she avoided checking. I explained if her levels were high the excess sugar in her blood was just floating around getting stuck in the small blood vessels of her eyes, kidneys, fingers and toes. Eventually she could end up blind, with kidney failure and peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in her extremities).

I checked Julia’s blood sugar level with a finger prick test and it was at 21, which is dangerously high. Diabetes is diagnosed when there is a fasting blood glucose reading above 6 and random blood glucose above 11. We had to get Julia’s levels down fast. She didn’t want to increase her medication dosage and was afraid she would soon need insulin. Her fear of needles propelled her to take all the necessary steps to get her sugar levels under control.

The first step in treating diabetes is eating a healthy diet, which means avoiding foods high in sugar, including white bread, pasta and other carbs that are quickly metabolized into sugar causing a spike in blood sugar. All meals should be balanced with appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Fibre helps to slow down transit time in the gut and prevent spikes in blood sugar so it should also be incorporated into the diet.

Cinnamon is a spice that should be added to the diet. It has been shown that up to 3 grams of cinnamon a day can significantly decrease blood sugar levels. It was important that Julia knew to stay away from “sugar free” foods. Most of these foods contain aspartame, a sugar substitute that has been linked with serious side-effects including headaches, weight gain, skin rashes and even Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Instead, she was advised to use natural sweeteners, such as Stevia, that come from a plant and don’t pose any added risk.

Daily exercising has been proven effective in decreasing blood glucose levels. During exercise your muscles use up glucose as energy so the more you exercise, the more sugar is cleared out of the blood.

Lastly, we needed to give Julia some supplements to help regulate her sugar levels. We began with fish oil along with a complex diabetes formula. A good formula contains nutrients such as chromium, which helps increase cells’ sensitivity to glucose (so that it can be taken out of the blood and into the cells where it is used as energy), gymnema, bitter melon and bilberry — all herbs known to decrease high blood sugar levels and regulate glucose metabolism — and antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), which help combat free radical damage that all that excess sugar in the blood causes to blood vessels.

It is important to note that certain prescription medications can deplete the body of specific vitamins and nutrients so a multivitamin supplement should be taken as well. For example, Metformin a common diabetes medication is known to deplete vitamin B12, so patients on this medication are advised to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

As soon as Julia began to implement her protocol her blood sugar levels began to come down. Diet alone and cutting out the white bread and pasta she was eating on a daily basis has helped immensely. Julia knows that her health is a long-term commitment and one that needs attention and dedication. With her lifestyle changes and her supplement regimen Julia’s blood sugar levels have come down to about 9 (still slightly high; I would like to see them between 4 and 6), however she has made significant progress and continues to do so every day.

This treatment plan was specific for Julia and each person is individual and will require a different protocol therefore, it is important to check with a naturopathic doctor before reaching for something on the shelf of your local health food store.

Dr. Claudia Truglia practices Naturopathic Medicine at the Stoney Creek Natural Health Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic in Stoney Creek, Ontario. She has an eclectic practice treating a broad range of health conditions with an emphasis on diabetes, mental health, cardiovascular health, woman's health and gastrointestinal conditions. Dr. Truglia also works as a Naturopathic Consultant for CanPrev Premium Natural Health Products and as a columnist for the local Hamilton Spectator. She is a member of the BDDT-N and CAND.