Diabetes is a metabolic disorder. To know what diabetes is, one should understand the process by which food is processed by the body. When food is digested, a sugar called glucose enters the blood stream, which is a source of fuel for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin which helps to move the glucose to the muscles, fat and liver cells where it can be used as fuel. Some people have high blood sugar because they cannot move the sugar into fat, liver and muscle cells to be stored for energy. There are two reasons for this. It could be because the pancreas does not make enough insulin or/and their cells do not respond to insulin normally.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the available sugar in the blood is above normal levels. Diabetes can be Type I, II, or gestational. Type I diabetes can occur at any age but is mostly diagnosed in children, teens, or young adults. In this type, the body makes little or no insulin, and hence, daily injections of insulin are needed. Type II diabetes makes up most of the diabetes cases in the world. The body produces plenty of insulin but cells are unable to use it. It usually occurs in adults, but teens and young adults are now being diagnosed with it because of high obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles. Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops at any time during pregnancy in a woman who does not have diabetes.
Risk Factors and Symptoms
The causes as said earlier can be due to inadequate insulin, or due to the failure of the body to adequately use the insulin produced. Other causes are a genetic predisposition to diabetes, mental or physical stress and viral or bacterial infection, or some environmental toxins that damage the pancreas. Some of the risk factors for developing type II diabetes are as follows:
- If previously diagnosed as pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes means a high blood-glucose level higher than normal but not high enough to diagnose as diabetes. Pre-diabetes can be reversible by making some lifestyle changes.
- High blood pressure
- High blood triglyceride levels
- Gestational diabetes
- High-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle.
- High alcohol intake and smoking
The main symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst and appetite and increased frequency of urination. Other symptoms include wounds not healing, boils, diminishing eyesight, and general weakness. Many infections are associated with diabetes, and infections are more dangerous in someone with diabetes because the body’s normal ability to fight infections is impaired.
Effects of diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes ultimately lead to high blood sugar levels, a condition called hyperglycemia. Over a period of time, hyperglycemia can damage the retina of the eye, the blood vessels of the kidneys, the nerves, and other blood vessels. Diabetes accelerates atherosclerosis, (the formation of fatty plaques inside the arteries), which can lead to blockages or clots. Such changes can then lead to heart attack, stroke, and decreased circulation in the arms and legs. People with diabetes are susceptible to elevated blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. These conditions both independently and together with hyperglycemia, increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and other blood vessel complications. It is also said to cause erectile dysfunction and impotence in men.
Anyone who is on herbal treatment should get their blood sugar checked regularly so that the drug intake and herb regimen are balanced and the blood sugar does not fall. When blood sugar becomes very low, it precipitates another crisis called hypoglycemia, which when untreated can lead to loss of consciousness, seizure, and coma in extreme cases.
Controlling Diabetes Through Diet and Exercise
The most important factor in diabetes is diet and weight control. Excessive weight makes the body less sensitive to insulin, the hormone needed to control the level of glucose in the blood. Luckily, the food that helps us get rid of obesity also controls diabetes. Eating food rich in fibre helps to reduce obesity and hence it follows that it is good for diabetes too. Dietary fibre helps reduce obesity in various ways. Fibre-rich food takes longer to eat and hence satisfies hunger before excess calories are consumed. The high fibre diet is also good for children with juvenile diabetes. Many foods that are high in complex carbohydrates are also rich in fibre and hence are ideal for diabetes. These include whole-grain bread, high fibre cereals, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, and corn. Curry leaves have a blood sugar lowering action. Onions and garlic are considered significant hypoglycaemics.
It has been found that people who have high insulin levels are much more likely to have low chromium levels. Chromium is a trace metal that is essential for maintaining a healthy heart and also for glucose control. Chromium may also play a role in speeding up the healing of wounds. Another element possibly helpful in diabetes is zinc, which increases the potency of insulin, increases glucose tolerance, and speeds wound healing.
Exercise is also an important factor in the treatment of diabetes. Regular physical activity is a must in the management of diabetes. Regular exercise tends to lower blood sugar and reduce the need for insulin. A study conducted at Yale University showed that exercise consisting of one hour of stationary cycling, four times a week, had positive effects on insulin sensitivity in healthy volunteers. Their sugar uptake by insulin was 30% higher after exercising. Insulin binding to monocytes also increased by 35%. (The Practical Encyclopedia of Natural Healing by Mark Bricklin) Some yoga asanas and pranayams are also said to help in controlling the disease, as these help you to lead a stress-free life.
Herbal Remedies for Diabetes
Jamun (Syzygium cumini)
The jamun fruit has been traditionally used in Ayurveda to treat diabetes. It heads the anti-diabetic herbal drug list. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted on this. The seeds contain a glucoside ‘jamboline’ which is believed to have the power to check the pathological conversion of starch into sugar.
- Dry the seeds, grind and powder and store it. Take 1/4th tsp of this powder every morning with a tsp of honey.
This helps check the excessive conversion of starch to sugar and also helps the inherent insulin in the body utilize sugar better.
Indian Gooseberry (Embilica Officinalis)
The Indian gooseberry plays a vital role in containing diabetes. It is high in Chromium and is said to stimulate the secretion of insulin. Amla extracts are powerful antioxidants. They inhibit digestive enzymes that would otherwise convert starch to sugar, helping to reduce blood sugar.
- Mix equal quantities of Indian gooseberry powder, turmeric powder and fenugreek seed powder. A tsp of this powder taken thrice a day with water is said to be beneficial for early diabetes.
Learn more about the health benefits of the Indian gooseberry
Bitter gourd/melon (Momordica charantia)
Studies have shown the ability of bitter gourd to enhance the cells’ uptake of glucose, promote insulin release, and make the effect of insulin more potent. It contains an insulin-like principle, known as plant-insulin which has been found effective in lowering blood and urine sugar levels.
- A diabetic should take the juice of about four or five fruits every morning on an empty stomach. The whole fruit should be used, including the skin and seeds.
To know more about the health benefits of bitter gourd and how it can be made into juice, please watch the video below
Fenugreek seeds (Trogonella foenum)
The fenugreek seeds contain compounds that may have hypoglycemic activity. The compounds act to delay gastric emptying, slow carbohydrate absorption, and inhibit glucose transport. Fenugreek may also increase the number of insulin receptors in red blood cells and improve glucose utilization in peripheral tissues.
- A heaped tsp of seeds soaked overnight in half a cup of water softens them and they become less bitter. Next morning, drink the water and eat the seeds along with your breakfast.
This is said to bring down blood glucose levels and reduces cholesterol, especially triglycerides. Learn more about fenugreek health benefits