You may have read the recent Health Post article: What is diabetes and how might you prevent it? In it, the author discussed Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) and its key driver insulin resistance. Unfortunately for New Zealand the incidence of T2DM has increased significantly. The good news is T2DM is for most people preventable and reversible.
So I thought it would be interesting to look at how insulin resistance occurs and if there are some herbs and minerals that could help to turn that situation around.
What is insulin and how does it work?
When we eat, food is broken down into its simplest form before it can be absorbed through the intestines. When food components pass through into the blood stream it triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to open our cells to let the glucose in. The glucose is used to power your cells and give you energy. If there is excess glucose the liver takes it and stores it away for a rainy day; as emergency rations if you like. If this happens too often we start to grow a large amount of “emergency ration fat” round our middle; which we all hate.
An expanding waistline is an early warning sign that your blood sugar regulation is starting to get out of balance. The other thing that happens when we have lots of excess glucose in our blood is that the pancreas starts producing extra insulin to try and push the excess glucose into the cells. Cells don’t like being bombarded with too much insulin, so over time after a prolonged assault the cells block the locks, insulin can no longer get sugar into the cell. The result of this is:
- Cells don’t get energy so we feel tired
- The cells still want sugar so they send us messages “Eat more sugar!!!” So we get carb cravings
- Our liver and pancreas have to work even harder
- We gain fat round our middle and in the worst case scenario can progress to type 2 diabetes
So how can we get back from this situation?
Obviously you need to change your diet and cut back on those high glycaemic index (GI) Foods (all the white things sugar, white bread, white rice etc.). However this is tough as those cells are still yelling at you to give them some sugar, so you just feel tired, grumpy and miserable. What you need to do is to get the receptors on the cells working with insulin to allow glucose into the cells. This is where certain herbs and minerals can help. Let’s have a look at some of the key ones.
This is an important mineral that forms part of a nutritional substance called glucose tolerance factor, which works alongside insulin to help it bind better with our cells. Chromium helps to switch the insulin receptors on our cells back on again, so they start working more efficiently. It helps the glucose get into the cells again, so they stop signalling for more sugar and this in turn means we have less sugar cravings. Chromium is also great as it helps in energy production and can slim down our waistlines and even supports good cholesterol levels.
In our diet chromium can be found in eggs, olives, brewer’s yeast, seafood, mushrooms, bananas brown rice and whole grains.
If you have noticed white spots on your nails then you may be short of zinc. This mineral plays an important role in blood sugar regulation, as it has insulin like qualities. Studies have shown that people who are low in zinc also have lowered insulin sensitivity. Zinc is involved in the production, storage and release of insulin from the pancreas. It also helps to protect the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin that can get destroyed when forced into working overtime. It has been shown to reduce excess glucose in the blood and improved insulin sensitivity.
Good sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds, seafood, eggs, meat, spirulina, mushrooms, nuts and wholegrains.
Good news, as well as being tasty this spice is great for your blood sugar and waistline. Studies have shown it to be of benefit in type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon helps improve insulin receptor signalling, so the key can open the lock and let glucose into the cells. Other studies show cinnamon helps support healthy cholesterol levels, as when our blood sugar levels are elevated, bad cholesterol levels can also increase. Cinnamon is also a powerful antioxidant to help protect against the damaging effects of glucose on the cardiovascular and other body systems.
Green tea is well known for its antioxidant actions in the body and it also helps reduce insulin resistance by enhancing glucose transport systems known as GLUT-4 transporters. Green tea may also help reduce excess weight by enhancing thermogenesis (the production of heat), in other words it helps burn calories.
This is another great herb to help you with your sugar addictions; it has been called the sugar destroyer because gymnema leaf suppresses the tongue’s ability to taste anything sweet, taking the fun out of chocolate and other sweet treats. Gymnema also helps to reduce glucose absorption from the digestive system and helps increase glucose uptake by the cells to support healthy blood sugar levels.
We also need to support the liver…
Your liver has been working really hard trying to maintain healthy blood sugar balance and over time it can become fatty and less effective. As mentioned before, quite often if your blood sugar regulation isn’t good, then neither are your cholesterol levels. Liver health is the key to good cholesterol metabolism. Liver herbs can help to get your liver back in shape and working at its best for good blood sugar balance. Herbs such as Milk Thistle, Globe Artichoke and Turmeric all have restorative and antioxidant actions on the liver. This means they protect and support our liver and circulatory system. Glucose damages cells and the lining of our blood vessels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants protect cells and blood vessels by mopping up damaging free radicals. Damage to the circulatory system, particularly our extremities is very common in advanced type 2 diabetes.
By Jane Cronin, Clinicians Naturopath
Clinicians BloodSugar Balance provides essential nutrients to support healthy blood sugar levels, carbohydrate and insulin metabolism and balanced energy levels. Buy it now from our secure online shop.
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