What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because insulin is not being produced in the body or because the body is not responding to the insulin that is produced.

For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the conversion of glucose into energy.

So when people with diabetes eat glucose, which is in foods such as breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurt and sweets, it can’t be converted into energy.  Instead of being turned into energy the glucose stays in the blood. This is why blood glucose levels are higher in people with diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are 2 main types of Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.

In Type 1 diabetes, your body stops making insulin completely. Without insulin, the body cannot turn glucose into energy therefore the body begins to burn its own fats as a substitute.  This type of diabetes is a result of an auto-immune destruction of the insulin producing Beta Cells in the pancreas.

Type 1 Diabetes is managed with lifelong insulin injections, healthy diet, regular exercise and monitoring blood glucose levels regularly.

Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, insulin is being produced but not in the amount your body needs to function.  This can be due to age related deterioration of the pancreas, genetic predisposition, i.e.  If your parents have Type 2 diabetes, then you may be more susceptible as you age.

Type 2 Diabetes can be a result of many lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, insufficient physical activity, poor diet.

It can be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise, however over time most people with type 2 diabetes will also need medication and many will also need insulin injections.

Natural Treatments

Although there is no known cure for diabetes, there are many lifestyle decisions, supplements and herbs that may help not only in the management of diabetes, but also by limiting the amount of insulin required for those living with Type 2 diabetes.


To help manage your diabetes, your meals need to be regular and spread evenly throughout the day. Foods needs to be lower in fat, particularly saturated fat and based on high fibre carbohydrate foods such as wholegrain breads and whole cereals, beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits.  Low Glycaemic Index foods, known as low G.I. Foods.

Foods such as sugar, honey, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits, lollies, canned fruit and ice cream have very little nutritional value are low in fibre. They cause a rapid rise in the blood sugar levels and should be avoided.  These foods including white bread and white flour products are known as high G.I. foods.

Starchy carbohydrate foods such as; wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice, legumes and starchy vegetables allow better control of blood sugar levels and should be eaten with most meals.

Foods that are low in energy can be eaten as desired. They have little effect on the body’s blood sugar levels. Most green vegetables have the green light, as well as mushrooms, beetroot, eggplant, onion, tomatoes and squash. Natural sweeteners with a low glycemic index such as Stevia and Xylitol are great to cook with or add as a sweetener without elevating your blood sugar levels.


Everybody benefits from regular exercise. If you have diabetes, or are at risk of diabetes it plays an important role in keeping you healthy.

Regular exercise is an important part of diabetes management. If you are on insulin, it will help your insulin to work more efficiently and assist with your blood glucose control. However, if your diabetes is poorly controlled then it is best to avoid exercise until your blood glucose has settled. Exercise in these circumstances can actually elevate blood glucose and increase ketone production.

Supplements and Herbs

Before you embark on ingesting supplements, have a discussion with your Naturopathic Physician or Healthcare provider to see if they are appropriate for you. If your Doctor is not familiar with these herbs and nutrients, you may recommend he or she read this information. If you plan to take supplements for your diabetes, keep your dosages low and start with one or two rather than a whole bunch at one time. Over time you can gradually add more supplements as you become familiar with how they make you feel or influence your blood sugar levels.

Chromium picolinate

Is a nutritional supplement that can help to control diabetes. Chromium is a mineral that helps to increase the efficiency of insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose levels. Picolinate is an amino acid that allows the body to use the chromium more readily.

Scientists have long known that chromium is a vital nutrient, but not until it was combined with picolinate was it a truly effective. In the body, chromium takes the form of an ion which is repelled by the bodys cells, making it difficult for chromium to be absorbed. Picolinate works as a chelator, a substance which binds with an ion and neutralizes its charge, therefore allowing the cells to accept the chromium; therefore chromium picolinate is the most readily absorbable type of chromium supplement.

Research shows that most people with diabetes experience a decline in blood glucose levels after taking daily chromium picolinate supplements. As a result, it is believed that chromium picolinate may be able to help many people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels and may allow them to cut back on their intake of insulin and other drugs, likely resulting in fewer side effects. In saying this, it is not recommended that a person with diabetes go out and start taking this supplement without firstly seeking the advice of a practitioner who is experienced in this area.

Gymnema Sylvestre

This plant’s Hindi name translates as “sugar destroyer” and is regarded as one of the most powerful herbs for blood-sugar control. It may work by boosting the activity of enzymes that help cells use glucose or by stimulating the production of insulin.


Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in people with diabetes, and it can worsen high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Some studies suggest that supplementing with magnesium may improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels, but other studies have shown no benefit. Have your doctor check you for deficiency before supplementing with magnesium.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Called ALA for short, present in broccoli and tomatoes, this vitamin-like substance neutralizes many types of free radicals. A build-up of free radicals caused in part by high blood sugar, can lead to nerve damage and other problems. ALA may also help muscle cells take up blood sugar. In a German study, a team of scientists had 40 adults take either an ALA supplement or a placebo. At the end of the four-week study, the ALA group had improved their insulin sensitivity 27 percent. The placebo group showed no improvement. Other studies have shown a decrease in nerve pain, numbness, and burning.  Lipoec acid plays an important role in the breakdown of carbohydrates and increases the absorption of glucose into muscle tissue in type 2 diabetes.  It also may decrease the damaging effects in diabetic neuropathy.


These seeds, used in Indian cooking, have been found to lower blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity, and reduce high cholesterol, according to several animal and human studies. The effect may be partly due to the seeds’ high fibre content. The seeds also contain an amino acid that appears to boost the release of insulin. In one of the largest studies on fenugreek, 60 people who took 25 grams daily showed significant improvements in blood sugar control and post meal spikes.


Known for its immune-boosting and disease-fighting benefits, this Chinese herb has several positive diabetes studies behind it. Re¬searchers have found that ginseng slows carbohydrate absorption; increases cells’ ability to use glucose; and increases insulin secretion from the pancreas. A team from the University of Toronto has repeatedly demonstrated that ginseng capsules lower blood glucose 15 to 20 percent compared to placebo pills.

Fish Oils

Fish oils benefit a diabetic by reducing the likelihood of heart disease. Fish oil does little to nothing to help control blood glucose levels or to reverse the cause of diabetes. However, it does reduce the risk of heart disease by improving triglyceride and cholesterol levels and blood pressure, all likely conditions that need improvement in diabetics.  Fish Oils have the essential fatty acid which reduces inflammation and assists viscosity (slipperiness of the blood).


A bioflavonoid that assists with the immune system function has been found to inhibit the enzyme that converts glucose to sorbitol, a compound linked to diabetic complications, including cataracts.  Quercetin may also enhance insulin secretion and protect pancreatic cells from free radical damage.


CoQ10 supplements may improve heart health, blood sugar and helps to manage high blood pressure in people with diabetes.  It also improves the function of endothelial cells lining blood vessel walls.  CoQ10 levels have been shown to be low in obese people and when combined with a low calorie diet may speed up weight loss.

Whey protein

For people with type 2 diabetes, adding whey to high-carbohydrate meals stimulates insulin release and reduces spikes in blood glucose levels after meals.


Acts as a co-factor for enzymes involved in blood sugar, fats and cholesterol metabolism.  Vanadium can mimic the effects of insulin and reduce blood sugar levels.  It is a trace mineral which has been considered essential for humans since the 1970’s.  The average adult body contains about 100mcg of vanadium and is found in the blood, organ tissues and bones.


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