Living better with diabetes

An estimated 5.5 million Americans are treated for diabetes every year. Studies indicate that there are 5 million adults with undetected Type II diabetes, and another 20 million who have impaired glucose tolerance leading to full-blown diabetes. The National Institutes of Health reports that undiagnosed diabetes is the reason behind millions losing their vision and is the third leading cause of death in the United States-- due to poor circulation leading to heart attack and stroke. Because diabetes can be controlled, we tend to believe that this disease does not warrant our attention, yet the numbers speak for themselves.

Type II diabetes, or maturity onset diabetes, is the most common form, and is considered a chronic degenerative disease. The pancreatic gland which produces insulin literally wears out. Although there is a genetic predisposition to diabetes of this type, a lifetime of cooked over processed foods and obesity greatly increases an individual's chances for the development of diabetes later in life.

The symptoms of diabetes vary. The most common symptoms are blurred vision, itching, unusual thirst, drowsiness -- especially following a large meal -- obesity, fatigue, slow healing, and numbness or tingling of the feet. It can be easily diagnosed with blood tests and if you think you may have diabetes it is vital that you see your physician promptly.

The diabetic is required to change his eating habits, and at first will work closely with a dietitian. It is vital they understand the diabetic diet and its exchange list. If the diabetic realizes that the diet changes will be for his lifetime, they usually do very well. The basic diabetic diet is a very clean diet with a balance between protein, carbohydrates and fat. For this simple reason the diet works very well in controlling most individual's disease and prevents damage to the micro circulation of the body. The diabetic diet is so balanced that most diabetic individuals will lose weight yet not suffer the cravings of a reduced calorie diet.

Exercise is also an invaluable part of the lifestyle change for a diabetic. Exercise increases the metabolic rate -- allowing fats and sugar to be burned more completely. It also helps increase circulation and prevents further damage to nerve endings and capillary beds. New studies released last year show that, with controlled exercise and diet, some insulin- dependent diabetics no longer need their insulin. Never, I repeat never try this on your own!

In addition to diet, there are some basic herbs and supplements you may want to add to your regimen. Ginseng is believed to lower blood sugar levels and produce energy. Huckleberry helps to promote insulin production. Other beneficial herbs that support liver function, and therefore help pancreatic function are dandelion, goldenseal and uva ursi.

Digestive enzymes are a must. The other major job of the pancreas, besides the production of insulin, is the production of enzymes used in digestion. By using a digestive enzyme, we boost pancreatic function and give this small overworked gland a much needed rest.

In some studies, the trace mineral chromium has been shown to stabilize blood sugar and increase energy. Other minerals important for the diabetic are calcium, magnesium and copper. Copper aids protein metabolism and boosts enzyme function.

Foods that help normalize blood sugar levels are berries, brewer's yeast, yogurt, fish, garlic, sauerkraut, soybeans and vegetables. Some foods to avoid would be highly processed foods, fried foods, highly fatty foods and alcohol. Avoid large doses of vitamin B complex that may interfere with the absorption of insulin and fish oils and beta carotene which the diabetic cannot convert to vitamin A.

Looking for more literature of diabetes? Try The American Diabetes Assoc., 1660 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314, or The International Diabetes Center, 5000 W 39th St., Minneapolis, MI 55416.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 23, 2001

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