Predictions for an increase in diabetes are dreadful. One in three children born in the United States in the year 2000 are apt to become diabetic unless they change the way they eat and start to move more. The implications of this epidemic are frightening because blindness, amputations, kidney failure and heart disease are in their futures. From the mid 60’s to the mid 90’s, the number of diagnosed diabetes cases has tripled. The type 2 diabetes that appeared at age forty is now showing up at age twelve. Almost all of those kids are overweight.
The Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, recently concluded a study of the Diabetes Prevention Program that focused on lifestyle influence on type 2 diabetes, and found that overweight and lack of exercise are still principal causes of the disease. The study included more than three hundred volunteers with body mass indexes (BMI) between 25 and 40, some of whom served as controls, while the others received a diabetes education program that included dietary interventions. By now, you already figured that the intervention group experienced significantly greater decrease in glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance. Not only that, but also they lowered their BMI’s and lost about an inch from their waistlines. (Katula. 2011) Getting rid of that gut makes a ton of difference. (Pun intended.) Parallel studies at Indiana University Medical School yielded similar results, with the additional benefits of improved blood pressure and total cholesterol levels. (Ackerman. 2011)
In type 1 diabetes, where insulin is required, science is trying to prevent the loss of beta cells, the ones in the pancreas that make insulin. Examining genetic susceptibility to disease is one step in the process. Family history is part of that. Up to now, there are no known pre-diagnosis steps that can be taken to prevent the onset of type 1. On the other hand, there are several possibilities for helping to save beta cells shortly after a diagnosis of diabetes. (Wherrett. 2011) Assiduous effort is put into this area, with the expectation that some factors known to trigger autoimmunity and the eventual destruction of beta cells can be controlled. Early trials offer promise, but have not yet reached fruition. (Thrower. 2009)
The list of diabetic complications is long and fearsome: coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy, to name a few. Researchers are looking closely at plants that can offset the costs and side effects of pharmaceuticals, and even obviate their use, but admonish us that diet and lifestyle still need to be reined in. (Haque. 2011) Because soy foods are integral to Asian cuisine, it seems appropriate to look for components of soy chemistry that might affect blood glucose. The soy phytoestrogen, genistein, was reported to protect against glucose-induce pancreas cell death in a study done in China. (Zhong. 2011) The applicability of this finding to either type 2 or type 1 diabetes, or both, is yet to be determined, but the prospects have merit.
Patients already diagnosed with type 2, or those who feel themselves candidates, may be comforted to know that alpha lipoic acid, a sulfur compound found in organ meats, spinach and broccoli, and also available as a supplement, prevents a rise in diabetes markers while improving the efficiency of glucose metabolism. In German studies it was found that administration of alpha lipoic acid for ten days, either orally or intravenously, improves insulin sensitivity in both lean and obese individuals. (Konrad. 1999) (Jacob. 1999) It would be imprudent, though, to expect supplemental alpha lipoic acid to do something we wouldn’t do for ourselves, such as lose weight and exercise.
Dietary fiber gets lots of attention, and is mostly associated with digestive health. The soluble type is fermented in the gut and makes some physiologically active byproducts. The insoluble type is comparatively inert and absorbs water to make elimination an efficient process. Legumes, some cereals and fruits, psyllium, and tuberous vegetables provide soluble fiber. Wheat and corn bran, whole grains, and nuts and seeds are sources of insoluble fiber. Psyllium has received considerable interest as an ingredient in high-fiber breakfast cereals, where it’s been reputed to lower cholesterol and to reduce blood glucose response to a meal. More than one study has reported psyllium to be effective for both. As little as 5 grams of psyllium taken either with, or just before, a meal has effected improvement in lipid and glycemic control. At the University of Virginia Diabetes Center, scientists noted a 14% reduction in postprandial glucose at breakfast, and a 20% reduction at dinner, compared to placebo, in people diagnosed with non-insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes. (Pastors. 1991) Analyses in Mexico and Texas arrived at the same conclusion, but recorded a pronounced positive effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (Rodriguez-Moran. 1998) (Lee. 1994)
The United States is not alone in the quest to control the diabetes epidemic by recommending lifestyle changes. The Japanese saw a risk reduction of more than 67% through weight loss, and the Finns realized risk reduction by controlling total and saturated fats and increasing dietary fiber, as well. (Kosaka. 2005) (Lindstron. 2006). Globally, children do not eat enough vegetables. Those who do, often limit their repertoire to only a few. French fries don’t count. What they are missing is magnesium, the prophylactic mineral that is able to improve glucose and insulin balance, especially in obesity. (Song. 2004) (Huerta. 2005) (Lopez-Ridaura. 2004) This mineral is loaded with properties that boost health. The prevention of diabetes is as simple as exercising, losing a few pounds, getting ample fiber, and eating magnesium-rich produce. Here, an ounce of prevention really is worth a few pounds of cure, not to mention getting stuck with a needle.
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