One of my favorite things to work with as a nutritionist is lifestyle diseases. The reason for this being exactly as the name says–they are lifestyle-induced diseases. If they’re lifestyle-induced, they can be lifestyle-reversed…. (to an extent.)
Everybody has heard of diabetes. Everybody knows that eating too much sugary crap will increase your chances of developing diabetes. Type II diabetes, that is. Type I is a whole other ball game. Type II diabetes is the failure of body cells to respond to insulin that the pancreas releases into the blood stream. Eventually the pancreas, after not having any of the cells listen to it, begins to tire from producing so much insulin, and it’s unable to produce it at the quantities we need. Because of this, sugar from the foods we eat sit in the blood stream and are unable to move efficiently into body cells to be used for energy. When sugar sits in the blood stream, it damages blood vessels–usually smaller blood vessels are damaged first and most extensively. The damage causes blood to be unable to get into those parts of the body, and those parts of the body begin to die. This is why uncontrolled diabetes leads to blindness, kidney damage, and tingling in the fingers and toes (with possible amputation if enough damage has been done). In larger blood vessels, this leads to damage of the blood vessel walls, and the body trying to repair it, leading to plaques developing (think of gunk building up in your drains and pipes at home) and narrowing of the vessels. You can see how this can then lead to heart disease.
Type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome (the name that it’s called right before it’s called type II diabetes) is lifestyle-induced by eating a diet low in nutrients, high in refined carbohydrates, and living a sedentary lifestyle.
So what’s the natural approach to combating this disease?
..did I hear you think “eat a diet high in nutrients, low in refined carbohydrates, and stop being a couch potato?”
Voila! You must be a nutritionist, you’re absolutely right!
Depending on the duration that your blood sugar levels have been abnormal, what other kinds of comorbidities you have (other illnesses, are you obese, what’s your nutritional status), cleaning up your diet, and devoting ample time at least five days per week to aerobic AND anaerobic exercise (that means lifting things that are heavy), you can help your body perform a 180 and begin normalizing itself. It’s not always that clear cut, but that is the basis–eat right, move right. Maybe I’ll make that my new slogan…. I call dibs, for any other chiros/nutritionists/health fanatics reading this :)
How do you re-sensitize your cells to insulin so that glucose can get into the cells easier?
Fasting has been practiced by cultures for thousands of years. Animal models have shown a cardioprotective (good for your heart) effect of fasting via modulating a hormone called adiponectin. Adiponectin is produced by adipose (fat) tissue and helps to sensitize cells to insulin (1).
Eating a diet rich in fiber, mono-unsaturated fats, and omega-3 poly-unsaturated fats is associated with lower blood glucose levels (2). Usually diets high in fiber (especially from vegetables) are associated with better insulin sensitivity (2,3), as these have higher levels of nutrients, like calcium. High intake of saturated fats (found in abundance in animal meats and dairy) is associated with insulin resistance–so reducing fatty animal foods by buying leaner meats and organic meats, and reducing intake of dairy, would help to resensitize your cells to insulin (2, 4). Nutritionists often recommend adhering to a “low glycemic load/index” diet in order to help stabilize blood sugar–what this means is eating carbohydrates (which break down into sugars) that are digested slowly so as to not spike the blood sugar. Fiber helps with this (so eating vegetables), and high quality protein with every meal will help to modulate the rate at which carbohydrates are digested and absorbed into the blood stream.
Reducing body fat percentage is paramount to resensitizing your cells to insulin. As body fat percentage increases, adiponectin levels decrease (5). Similarly, as muscle mass increases, so does adiponectin levels (6). Physical activity is the other half of the coin in terms of insulin resistance. More active individuals are less prone to developing insulin resistance (7).
Gymnema sylvestre is an herbal therapy that has been used in India for centuries. It works to resensitize the body to insulin, as well as increase the secretion of insulin by the pancreas (8). Herbal therapies are often used in lieu of medications, as they are less toxic, cause less side effects, and help to restore physiology, instead of replace it.
Insulin resistance is the beginning of metabolic syndrome, which is the beginning of type II diabetes, which is a lifestyle disease. Change your lifestyle, change your disease. In the future I’ll write about other lifestyle diseases that lifestyle can greatly impact.
1. Cardioprotective Effect of Intermittent Fasting is Associated with an Elevation of Adiponectin Levels in Rats. M Soeters, et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 May; 21(5): 413–417.
2. South Asian diets and insulin resistance. A Misra, L Khurana, S Isharwal, S Bhardwaj. Brit J Nutr. 2009. 101: 465–473.
3. Effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on pancreatic β cell function, insulin sensitivity, and glycemia in adults at high risk of diabetes: the Calcium and Vitamin D for Diabetes Mellitus (CaDDM) randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 94(2): 486-494.
4. Saturated Fatty Acid-Mediated Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Adipose Tissue: Mechanisms of Action and Implications. A Kennedy, K Martinez, C Chuang, K LaPoint, M McIntosh. J. Nutr. 2009. 139(1): 1-4.
5. Adiponectin in insulin resistance: lessons from translational research. F Ziemke, C Mantzoros. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010. 91(1): 258S-261S.
6. Relative Muscle Mass Is Inversely Associated with Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. Findings from The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. P Srikanthan, A Karlamangla. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011. 96(9):2898–2903.7. Relationship Between Insulin Resistance–Associated Metabolic Parameters and Anthropometric Measurements With Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake and Physical Activity Levels in US Adolescents: Findings From the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
7. A Bremer, P Auinger, R Byrd. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(4):328-335.
8. A Novel Extract of Gymnema sylvestre Improves Glucose Tolerance In Vivo and Stimulates Insulin Secretion and Synthesis In Vitro. A Al-Romaiyan, AJ King, S J Persaud, PM Jones. Phytother. Res.. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4815.