Improper nutrition does contribute to the development of diabetes, but proper nutrition can be a powerful treatment for this disease. (1) This disease is so closely related to diet and nutrition; scientists have studied how nutritional supplements can effectively treat diabetes. In researching vitamin supplements, researchers have found that many vitamins and herbs can effectively help lower blood sugar. Some of these supplements are vitamin C, B vitamins, minerals like chromium and vanadyl sulfate, and herbs like Gymnema Sylvestre can all help lower blood sugar. If one combines these supplements together, they can synergistically work together to lower blood sugar. First let’s look at what diabetes is and then we can discuss how these supplements work.
The foods we eat are digested and broken down into simpler forms; most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar also known as glucose. These sugars are absorbed through the intestinal tract into the bloodstream where it is circulated through out the body to feed cells.
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas. The pancreas is a long skinny organ that sits behind the stomach adding enzymes into the digested food. Insulin helps deliver nutrients and sugar from the bloodstream into cells where it is needed. The sugar supplies energy to various organs such as the heart and lungs; for example the heart beats and lungs breathe which keep us alive as a result of sugar’s energy supply. (2,3)
There are two classes of diabetes type I and type II. Type I diabetes is sometimes called insulin dependent, juvenile or child onset diabetes. This type usually starts at a very early age and the pancreas stops producing insulin. When the body does not make insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells where it’s needed. This can be fatal, so a person with type I diabetes needs a shot of insulin every day for his/her body to function properly (to stay alive).
Type II diabetes usually starts in adults and is the most common kind of diabetes in America. Most people who have diabetes have type II, that’s about 90% -95% of all diabetics in America. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas is producing enough insulin but the body doesn’t use the insulin effectively. This is called insulin resistance, cells in the body do not respond to the insulin and so the pancreas produces more and more insulin to over compensate this resistance. When blood sugar starts to raise in the bloodstream in this manner, the medical doctor (MD) will diagnose type II diabetes. Most type II diabetics need a prescription drug to lower the blood sugar because a diet change isn’t enough to control their blood sugar problem. (4)
In both cases, the blood sugar is too high in the bloodstream and will cause several problems. The first problem is cells cannot absorb sugar for energy; they starve and start to die. Secondly an excess amount of sugar in the blood leads to cardiovascular disease, hardening of the arteries, nerve and eye damage, and kidney damage.
Scientists are not exactly sure what causes type I diabetes, but they do know it has something to do with the immune system. A healthy immune system protects us from the common cold and cancer cells (cells in the body that go bad). The immune system can becomes confused and starts attacking good cells, in some cases, the healthy cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which causes diabetes. (4)
Type II diabetes has been linked to individuals who are overweight. These overweight individuals have high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well which may also lead to this form of diabetes. Being overweight causes the body to become insulin resistant and by dropping some excess weight one could possibly reverse type II diabetes (rare).
If you think you have diabetes, you should look for the following symptoms. Type I diabetics usually have frequent urination because of the high blood sugar; the kidneys are trying to balance the body’s bloodstream. The kidneys are forced to eliminate all the unused nutrients and sugar in the blood over working the kidneys and if left unchecked can lead to kidney damage. If you experience intense thirst, your body is trying to replace the liquids lost from frequent urination. You may experience increased hunger but you will not gain weight when you do eat more. This is because your body’s cells need more nutrients, but since these cells can not absorb the insulin and nutrients the body starves.
With type II diabetes you might not notice any symptoms. Type II diabetes usually happens very gradually and the person doesn’t know about it till diabetic complications occur, then it’s too late. (3,4)
All diabetic complications are caused from high blood sugar. The longer the blood sugar goes unchecked the greater your chances of having complications. High blood sugar causes cardiovascular disease. The blood vessels begin to thicken from excess fat in the bloodstream because high blood sugar elevates the fat circulating in the blood. When the vessels thicken circulation becomes poor and with poor circulation your ability to heal is impaired. Heart attack, heart pain, and stroke are common in diabetics because of poor circulation and blocked arteries form all the fat buildup in the blood vessels.
Nerve damage is another complication of diabetes. Diabetics may notice numbness in their arms and legs because of nerve damage caused from high blood sugar. These nerves can not send signals to the brain relaying pain and touching sensations. Most diabetics will notice numbness in the feet and lower legs before other parts of the body are effected. (3,4)
The next complication is eye damage. A more sever complication because going blind is not pleasant for anyone. The eye has very small delicate vessels in the retina, these vessels help you see when light shines upon them in the eye. When blood vessels are weakened, they can hemorrhage and leak fluid into the eye. This causes swelling and blurs the vision. There is a clear gel in the eye keeping it solid and round, if blood leaks into this gel, your vision can become blurred or completely impaired. As the eye continues to get damaged, the eye will attempt to repair itself by growing new vessels. These new vessels are fragile and can burst. Scar tissue can form and cause the retina to pull away from the eye, worst case causing blindness. (3,4)
Blood vessels network throughout the entire body. Your kidneys are made up of vessels and can become damaged as well. If the vessels in the kidneys become impaired, waste cannot be eliminated from the body and a form of treatment called dialysis might be required. If blood sugar is not kept under control, damage to the kidneys will continue to the point where a transplant might be needed or daily dialysis is required to remove waste from the bloodstream. The good news is practically all of the complications that occur with diabetes can be prevented when the right care is taken.
With proper diet and nutrition one can successfully prevent diabetic complications. Along with diet and nutrition, vitamins, minerals and herbs can also help lower blood sugar and reduce the complications that may occur. The best kind of supplement is one that combines vitamins and herbs together so that they work together synergistically to effectively lower blood sugar. You might be wondering what vitamins, minerals and herbs are good for blood sugar, your in luck here is a list:
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6, Folic Acid, Vitamin B-12, Biotin, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Copper, Manganese, Chromium, Gymnema Sylvestre, Bitter melon, Fenugreek seed extract, Bilberry berry extract, Bioflavonoids, and Vanadyl Sulfate. Make sure most of these ingredients are in the formula you buy. The frequency at which you take these supplements should be listed on the bottle you buy as well. As a rule of thumb they should be taken at least twice a day. Do not stop taking your normal multiple vitamin supplement; diabetic formulas are a complement to what you currently take not a replacement.
Vitamin C (ascorbic Acid) keeps diabetics blood vessels and kidneys healthy. Vitamin C works with vitamin E to get sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells.
Vitamin E (Natural Tocopherols) helps prevent nerve damage, helps prevent kidney damage, blindness, and heart attack. Vitamin E works with the B vitamins to help keep the pancreas healthy.
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine HCL) works with folic acid to help prevent nerve damage and heart attack.
Folic Acid works with B-12 to help prevent stroke and the loss of limbs due to diabetic complications.
Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) works with B-6 and folic acid to help relieve neuropathic pain.
Biotin helps insulin work better and helps keep the pancreas working well to lower blood sugar.
Magnesium (Krebs Cycle Chelate) helps insulin work more effectively and relieves neuropathic pain.
Zinc (picolinate, chelate) helps insulin work better and helps shuttle blood sugar into cells.
Selenium (aspartate) helps prevent nerve damage and protects blood vessels against elevated blood sugar. Selenium mimics insulin helping blood sugar into the cells.
Copper (picolinate) helps protect the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Also, copper helps prevent diabetes-related damage to blood vessels and nerves, and lowers blood sugar levels.
Manganese helps prevent damage to nerves and blood vessels.
Chromium (picolinate) works with biotin to help bring down blood sugar and keeps the pancreas working well.
Gymnema Sylvestre leaf extract helps balance blood sugar and may protect us from gaining weight.
Bitter melon whole fruit extract helps pathways in the liver work more efficiently; lowers blood sugar levels.
Fenugreek seed extract helps our kidneys and liver metabolize blood sugar more efficiently.
Bilberry berry extract helps reduce the severity of diabetic cataracts.
Mixed bioflavonoids helps protect vitamin C and E from becoming damaged. Helps clear and sharpen vision in diabetics.
Vanadyl sulfate helps muscle and liver cells use insulin more effectively.
These supplements will not lower your blood sugar too much, but help bring them down to a more normal level. Diabetes is a disease that needs to be monitored daily several times throughout the day. When you start taking a diabetic supplement to help equalize your blood sugar, monitor your sugar levels more often at first so you can get a feel for where you sugar levels come down to before taking more insulin. A normal range of blood sugar for diabetics before a meal is 70 150 (1,2,5) and ideally 70 120.
The diabetic formula you may take for lowering blood sugar is by no means a license to eat any way you want. You still need to eat healthy and see your health practitioner on a regular basis. Diabetes might make you feel overwhelmed, especially if you have recently been diagnosed with it. With proper exercise, diet, and vitamin supplements you can be well on your way to a lower more manageable blood sugar level, and live a longer healthier life.
1. American Diabetes Association. In the news. Available at: www.ada.yellowbrix.com/pages/ada. Accessed on December 10, 2001.
2. Guven S, Kuenzi J. Diabetes mellitus. In: Porth CM. Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 1998: 810-830.
3. Guyton AC, Hall JE. Diabetes mellitus. In: Textbook of Medical Physiology. 10th Ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders Company;2000: .
4. Grodner M, Anderson SL, DeYoung S. Diabetes mellitus. In: Foundations and Clinical Applications of Nutrition: A Nursing Approach. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2000:540-548.
5. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Do your level best. Available at: www.niddk.nih.gov/health/diabetes/dylb/chap1.htm#e. Accessed December 31, 2001.