Diabetes: A 21st Century Epidemic
by Michael T. Murray & Michael R. Lyon, NDs.

Approximately one third of the 17 million people in the United States with diabetes are unaware that they have the disease. Many of these individuals first become conscious that they have diabetes when they develop one of its life-threatening complications such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. The risk for death among people with diabetes for these catastrophic complications is about 4 times that of people without diabetes. In addition to an earlier death, diabetes carries with it significant risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis and limb amputation.

Diabetes is divided into two major categories: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is associated with complete destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas that manufacture the hormone insulin. Individuals with type 1 diabetes will require lifelong insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. About 5-10% of all diabetics are type 1. Type 2 diabetes insulin levels are typically elevated indicating a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body. Approximately 90% of individuals categorized as having type 2 diabetes are obese. Obesity greatly reduces the sensitivity of cells to the hormone insulin.

Diabetes is a very serious disorder that needs to be treated effectively. The best treatment for any disease is prevention. While current conventional medical treatment has undoubtedly led to many diabetics living healthier and longer as a result, the most effective treatment of diabetes and other blood sugar problems requires the utilization of lifestyle, dietary, and nutritional supplement strategies. When used properly, the natural medicine approach to diabetes can: 1) Significantly reduce your risk for developing diabetes even if many of your family members or ancestors are or were diabetic; 2) Possibly reverse diabetes, even in many diabetics who are currently using insulin 3); Improve the sensitivity of cells to the action of insulin thereby improving glucose tolerance and normalizing blood sugar; 4) Promote weight loss and slow down or block the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract; 5) Effectively reduce the complications of diabetes including heart disease and retinopathy; Improve the actions of drugs and insulin while at the same time reducing their side-effects.

It’s quite clear that the best diet in the management of diabetes and other blood sugar disorders is not the one promoted by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). One of the main criticisms of the Diabetes Food Pyramid promoted by the ADA is that is does not stress strongly enough the importance of quality food choices. The bottom of the pyramid represents the foods that the ADA thinks should make up the bulk of a diabetic's diet: the Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group. At 6-11 servings a day from this group, a diabetic is supposedly on their way to a healthier life. What the pyramid doesn't tell, though, is that following these recommendations set the stage for further insulin resistance, obesity and heart disease.

If you compare the dietary recommendations of our program as outlined in new book “How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine” to the ADA’s, you will notice some clear differences. Our version incorporates the best from two of the most healthful diets ever studied: the traditional Mediterranean diet and the traditional Asian diet. These diets have also been shown to be protective against diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The four key principles of our diet program are to avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as junk foods, candy and soft drinks; follow a low glycemic diet; eat a "rainbow" assortment of fruits and vegetables; reduce the intake of meat and animal products; and eat the right types of fats.

The goals of diabetes management with natural medicine are to: 1. Reduce after meal elevations in blood sugar levels; 2. Provide optimal nutrient status; 3. Improve insulin function and sensitivity; 4. Prevent nutritional and oxidative stress. Specific natural products are available to address each of these core goals. Soluble fiber supplements have been shown to enhance blood sugar control, decrease insulin levels and reduce the number of calories absorbed by the body. When taken with water before meals, these fiber sources bind to the water in the stomach and small intestine to form a gelatinous, viscous mass which not only slows down the absorption of glucose, but also induces a sense of satiety (fullness) and reduces the absorption of calories. In some of the clinical studies demonstrating weight loss, fiber supplements were shown to reduce the number of calories absorbed by 30-180 calories/day. While modest, this reduction in calories would, over the course of a year, result in a 3-18 pound weight loss.

Michael T. Murray, N.D., and Michael Lyon, M.D., are widely regarded as leading authorities on natural medicine. Their book, “How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes with Natural Medicine” (Penguin Putnam; 2003) is available wherever books are sold.