Diabetes is a serious and lifelong health condition. It is when the body’s levels of blood glucose are too high and cannot be used properly. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes. Both conditions can cause serious health problems, but Type 2 Diabetes is much more common. 90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes in the UK
In 2015, Public Health England released data relating to the population of diabetes living in the UK. This data revealed that around 9% of the adult population were living with diabetes. This equates to roughly 3.8 million people. However, of these 3.8 million adults living with diabetes, 90% of these are Type 2 diabetes. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 is preventable in most cases. There is a link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and it is predicted that by 2035 the number of people living with diabetes in the UK will increase to 4.9 million.1
What is diabetes?
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are slightly different but both relate to the body’s inability to control and regulate blood glucose levels.
In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As insulin stimulates the liver to absorb glucose, insufficient insulin levels lead to increased levels of blood glucose, it is therefore managed with daily insulin doses and a healthy lifestyle. Type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disease, with the average age of diagnosis at 14, so it is often referred to as 'juvenile diabetes', although diagnoses also occur later on, typically before age 40.
Type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease, but it is caused by an insulin deficiency. However, in this case, the deficiency is linked to an insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is most commonly caused by obesity, when the insulin receptors undergo a change.2
Symptoms of diabetes
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes share some of the same symptoms. The most common symptoms are:
- Excess thirst
- More frequent urination
- Itchy skin
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision3
If you think you are developing symptoms of diabetes, make sure you see your doctor. Type 2 diabetes can be avoided if you seek medical advice and help as soon as you think you are exhibiting symptoms. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed for years because the symptoms are so general and is only diagnosed when secondary health conditions occur.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, the most important thing to do to remain healthy and prevent complications is to monitor and regulate your blood glucose levels. Your treatment will be different, depending on whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. If you have Type 1 diabetes, you will have to take insulin as your body does not produce any insulin at all.4 Depending on your treatment, you may have to use insulin injections, or an insulin pump. Your doctor will discuss your treatment with you.
Type 2 diabetes requires different treatments. Depending on your condition and overall health, you may need to take insulin or other diabetic drugs. Often, Type 2 diabetes can be managed with healthy diet and regular exercise.5
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Before embarking on sudden or drastic lifestyle changes after your diabetes diagnoses, it is necessary to consult with a doctor. You must ensure that your blood glucose levels remain within a normal, healthy range. Cutting down on processed foods such as white bread, takeaways and ready meals is a good start as these foods contain high levels of sugar.
Regular exercise will help to maintain a healthy body weight, which is also important in the management of diabetes and the related symptoms.
Supplements for Diabetics
Before taking any supplements for your diabetes, you must seek advice from a qualified medical professional to ensure the supplements are suitable for you and will not have negative effects on your health. There are however a number of natural supplements which your doctor may be able to guide you towards, which are listed below.
This is most commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, because our bodies produce it as a reaction to ultraviolet rays. It is essential for healthy teeth and bones, and immune systems. It is fat-soluble, so our bodies store it for longer and therefore it can be taken in smaller amounts.6 insulin resistance has been found to be a common sign of Vitamin D deficiency, and increased Vitamin D intake has led to improved blood glucose regulation.7
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids necessary for proper health. They are most commonly used in the treatment and maintenance of healthy joints, but they are also important for cardiovascular health.8 As cardiovascular health problems can arise as a result of diabetes, Omega-3 supplementation can have benefits for diabetics.9 Similarly, studies have shown that people with Type 2 diabetes can have reduced insulin resistance when they take increased amounts of Omega-3.
Psyllium Husk is a fibre that cannot grow in shaded areas but one that has been used for thousands of years in the treatment of gut problems.10 While it is most commonly used as a laxative, it has been known to improve both heart and pancreatic health.11 One study has also concluded that it can help with glycemic control in people with Type 2 diabetes.12
Many of us use cinnamon as a flavouring in foods, as it is a sweet spice easily found on supermarket shelves. It is harvested from inside the bark of tropical, evergreen trees. In ancient times, cinnamon powder was used to treat a number of digestive issues.13 Since 2000, many studies have been conducted about the effect of cinnamon on blood glucose levels and diabetes.14 These have concluded that cinnamon can improve glucose concentration and reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes.15
Most of us would use garlic as a flavouring in cooking but it has been used medicinally for centuries, for antiviral and antifungal properties.16 Garlic is widely used for heart health, and heart disease is a common complication for people with diabetes.17 Studies have found that garlic has huge health benefits for people living with diabetes, not only due to its positive effect on heart health, but also because it reduces the levels of blood sugar for people with Type 2 diabetes.18
Known as the ‘miracle plant’, aloe vera has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. It has huge health benefits, particularly related to gastrointestinal problems, but it also has a very high concentration of vitamins and minerals.19 Studies have shown that aloe vera can decrease blood lipid levels, which are abnormally high in diabetics.20
This acid is a member of the Omega family and as such is an essential fatty acid and antioxidant.21 As it is a member of the Omega fatty acid family, it shares many of the health benefits of Omega, but it is also a great antioxidant and can kill free radicals in the body while also improving insulin sensitivity.22
In the 3rd century, chromium was used in weaponry and chromium plating. In the 18th century, its biological and health benefits were discovered and it has been used as a supplement since.23 It is widely known for its ability to lower blood sugar levels and has been known to be very beneficial in the management and treatment of diabetes.24
Diabetes is a lifelong health condition for which there is no cure. However, with proper diet and exercise, coupled with medication, it and its symptoms are manageable. Before taking supplements or completely overhauling your diet, ensure you speak to your doctor.
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15 Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Khan A, Khattak K, Sadfar M, Anderson R, Khan M. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26: 3215-3218.