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Good health - Diabetes

Diabetes - or to give it it's official name - Diabetes mellitus.  When food goes through your digestive system, the pancreas secretes enzymes, but this organ has another role, however, and that is the production of two hormones, called glucagon and insulin. When the amount of sugar in the blood declines, glucagon is released. On reaching the liver, it prompts cells located there to convert some of its stored-up glycogen into glucose and so the blood-sugar level is corrected. Insulin works in exactly the opposite way: after a meal, when the blood is rich with sugar, the pancreas secretes this hormone, which then also targets the liver. This time, the liver cells are provoked into extracting glucose from the blood and then keeping it in the form of glycogen, and so the blood-sugar level is again regulated, but downwards. The balancing act involved is another example of homoeostasis, in which the internal environment is kept constant.

The disease known as diabetes occurs either when the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or when, having secreted the hormone, the body's cells are then unable to incorporate it into their metabolic processes. Either way, the patient does not have normal control over blood-sugar levels, which may swing wildly. If they rise too high, the person will become extremely thirsty and will have an overwhelming urge to urinate as the body tries to rid itself of the sugar. For this reason diabetes was bluntly referred to as 'the pissing sickness' by seventeenth-century English people. The Latin name, diabetes mellitus, accurately describes this symptom, meaning 'sweetness running through'. If they swing too low, the brain cells, which are heavily dependent on glucose, will be unable to function properly and the result may be coma. In advanced cases, coma may equally occur if blood sugar rises too high due to failure to administer insulin.

If the diabetes starts in childhood, then insulin will have to be injected to keep the blood sugar steady, as there will be an underproduction of the hormone, due possibly to genetic factors or maybe as the result of injury to the pancreas from a virus. If, however, the disease starts in the middle years, as is often the case, then the chances are that insulin is being produced but the body's cells cannot absorb it. This type is generally described as `non-insulin-dependent', and control with nutrition alone is usually very effective (although more serious conditions may have to be treated additionally with anti-diabetic drugs). It is therefore a programme for the adult-onset variety that we will concentrate on here; however, the dietary recommendations will also significantly assist any diabetic. All are prone to other serious illnesses as well, including blindness, kidney dysfunction, nerve defects, gangrene, strokes and heart disease, but such hazards can be largely prevented with healing nutrients.

Like many other maladies discussed in this website, under the good health section, the steep rise in the incidence of diabetes is a consequence of our modem way of life. Researchers who studied peasant farmers in East Africa have noted that the occurrence of diabetes is well under 1 per cent. Yet when they examine the affluent nouveau riche, the 'Wabenzi' (that is those who own a Mercedes Benz!), 9 per cent of this overfed, sedentary group has the disorder. It seems that the body's natural mechanism for dealing with sugars has become confused by overburdening it with an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates and so, in the end, the blood-sugar levels rise unchecked.

The two most important ways to avoid diabetes, and to control it if you have it, are to lose weight if you are too heavy and to take regular exercise. Permanent weight loss is a great help to alleviating the symptoms of diabetes, also, you will find low-fat, sugarfree recipes in the health-giving page, on one of the links below. As for exercise, this will help your body to make better use of the available insulin.
Your doctor will doubtless explain to you that the aim in working with nutrition is to keep your blood-sugar levels steady, thereby avoiding those highs and lows that will make you feel miserably ill.

Diabetes sufferers often suffer from blindness later on in life, with the retinas sometimes damaged from internal bleeding, but had they found out about nutritional therapy at an earlier stage, some of this deterioration may have been averted. Just 500mg of vitamin C daily would have strengthened those fragile capillaries, while bioflavonoids could have stopped the build-up of excess fluid in the eyes.

Diabetics also have problems with blood clots; the specialized red blood cells called platelets clump together too readily due to an abnormal fatty acid content. This can result in strokes as well as eye damage. Eating plenty of oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel, or taking linseed oil, will help to correct this, as will 5001U of vitamin E daily.
To begin with, diabetics can find it hard to adhere to the diets recommended by their doctors, but the experience of going into a coma can alarm someone so much that they have to change their attitude!!

Diabetics should ensure that more than half their intake of calories are coming from unrefined complex carbohydrates which are high in fibre. This means the emphasize should be on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain products and legumes.

The results of a study published in May 1985 of Seventh Day Adventists, who are lifelong vegetarians, showed dearly that they were only half as likely to develop diabetes as other Americans. Further studies have demonstrated that a diet rich in fibre and complex carbohydrates reduces blood glucose and therefore insulin requirements by up to 50 per cent. Taking the soluble fibre in the form of around 10g of xanthum gum or guar gum is especially valuable in this respect, while pectin delays the rate at which food passes through the digestive system, so bringing about a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. (On the subject of fibre, it is not advisable to take extra wheat bran as this can bind to valuable minerals and extract them from the body.)

For anyone looking for a cure for diabetes, there's no certain way to stop diabetes, but eating little or no meat and only low-fat dairy products in restricted amounts will be a great help, and if you also restrain yourself from reaching for the salt-shaker or from buying those much-appreciated bottles of wine. Plus, after just a short while on this new diet, (perhaps a couple of months), you'll find a nice bonus of losing weight as well and will be able to maintain the new weight without any extra effort.

Research during the last 15 years has shown chromium to be an essential trace element which works together with the amino acids cysteine, glydne and glutamic acid and vitamin B3 (collectively called Glucose Tolerance Factor or GTF) that helps insulin to get the glucose into cells. Considering that the refining of flour removes nearly all the chromium from our bread, otherwise the main source for this mineral, it is hardly surprising that Westerners suffer from this deficiency, with resulting late-onset diabetes. Do eat fresh wholemeal bread, therefore - organic if you can find it. Or better still, make it yourself. All older diabetics will benefit from chromium supplementation, found in brewer's yeast tablets, which will also contain GTR Take at least three tablets three times a day; indeed you can safely take three times this amount. Brewer's yeast contains other B-complex vitamins; B6 and B12 help in blood-sugar control and combat symptoms such as tingling and dizziness. It is worth experimenting to discover what dose suits you best.

If the glucose is unavailable to cells, then the body will invade fat and protein stores for urgently needed fuel. The unfortunate consequence of this is that fats build up in the bloodstream, leaving diabetics highly vulnerable to strokes and heart disease, a potentially lethal situation. All the more reason to prevent this happening by taking chromium. Needless to say, it is vital that diabetics do not smoke, which will only exacerbate all these complications.

Not only will vitamin C strengthen capillary walls, it will help to heal leg ulcers and avoid bruising, both common in diabetics, as well as keeping the blood cholesterol down: 1g daily in small amounts is a useful dosage, together with plenty of oranges, kiwi fruit, green peppers and broccoli.

You may have been losing zinc in your urine, so include a daily supplement of 15mg. This mineral is important for healing and will also combat leg ulcers; check the section below on the nutrients link for good sources of zinc. Moreover, it is involved in the production of insulin so is especially valuable to diabetics. However, too much will not be better for you; more than 25mg daily may deplete the 'good' blood fats. Chromium, on the other hand, will raise the beneficial HDLs.

Russian researchers have identified an anti-diabetic substance in ginseng called ginsnenin. It is worth the expense because it helps to keep blood sugar on an even keel. The powdered root can be bought in tablets and you will need to take about 400mg daily. The reason why the price is so high is because it is harvested only once every six years, after which the land is left for a whole decade before replanting. Do you know you can grow it in your own garden? The root can then be boiled to extract the active ingredients. It might be worth experimenting.
As for fenugreek, this. is reckoned by some experts to be more effective than many anti-diabetic drugs at lowering blood glucose. You can sprout the seeds in a jar on your windowsill and they are delicious eaten in salads.

Garlic, once again, is a wonderful medicine. Tests in India have shown that garlic reduces the concentration of sugar in the blood of both healthy people and diabetics, so use garlic regularly in cooking. If you really cannot stand the taste, then garlic-oil capsules are a handy alternative, although they may not be so efficacious.

The best drink for diabetics is sage tea (see the health-giving diet from one of the links below and look under 'Infusions'). This will also assist in keeping blood sugar under control.

To prevent those swings in glucose, eat little and often, rather than gorging yourself every now and again; six small, well balanced meals are far better than three big ones.

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