In type 2, the most common form of diabetes, the blood contains a high level of glucose because cells resist insulin generated in the pancreas. We interviewed three experts who all agree that exercise, diet, and good health practices can cure this illness. Each discusses his or her individual approach and presents a patient's case as an example.
Patient 1: Cynthia, age 58
Cynthia worked shifts and extended hours throughout her life. Her diabetes appeared early, at age 19, shortly after she began taking birth control pills. When a routine glucose tolerance test revealed pseudo diabetes, she went off the pills. The disease retreated for a few years but soon returned. Her doctor put her on Glucophage (metformin), yet her glycohemoglobin (A1c) results continued to go up. The doctor increased her dosage, adding Actose and Januvia to the mix. Cynthia developed severe back pain and was ready for a change. After attending a seminar by Eric Berg, DC, she began seeing him regularly.
Practitioner 1: Eric Berg, DC
Author, educator, and director of the Health & Wellness Center in Alexandria, Va.
"When Cynthia came to me, she was overweight, exhausted, anxious, and worried that she was getting older. She wanted to lose weight so she could become healthy, but I help patients become healthy so they can lose weight. I started with acupuncture, then provided her body with the right nutrients so she could heal," says Berg.
Berg gave Cynthia recipes (from Dr. Berg's Healthy Fat Burning Recipes, available as an ebook at amazon.com) that supported her body in two ways. First, they addressed the glands that caused the illness: the pancreas and adrenals. "Overactive adrenal glands are responsible for diabetes more than any other cause," says Berg, "because they secrete glucocorticoids in response to stress. When you support this gland, diabetes gets better."
Second, type 2 diabetes is a receptor problem. Cynthia's liver cells were resistant to insulin, so Berg supported her liver. "All of a sudden, her resistance improved and she was able to get off her medications completely. Her doctor can't get over how she can be free of this, that food could actually make the difference," says Berg.
Cynthia has lost 37 pounds since her treatment began five and a half years ago. She is free of the disease and off all medications. She continues a three-day-a-week "diehard" mini-liver enhancement diet of cottage cheese, celery or apple, and a fiber drink with lemon juice, vinegar, and cinnamon; occasionally she "jump starts" her diet with a water, kale, berries, and a stevia-sweetened drink. Her regular diet includes lots of cruciferous vegetables; celery and carrots; eggs; real butter; and organic meats.
Her daily supplement regimen focuses on vitamins B and C, a cruciferous sprouts supplement, Cataplex G, and Super K2. She also participates in interval training, short runs, and rebounder exercises, and practices yoga.
Patient 2: Sam, age 60.
Sam, an acquaintance of natural healing specialist K.P. Khalsa, began having horrible, burning pain in his feet at around age 40. "He was a health nut and thought he was doing the best he could," Khalsa says, "so he ignored it, typical of American men." Sam‘s symptoms got worse and worse, and Khalsa suspected it was diabetic neuropathy, a common, serious complication of diabetes. At 55, Sam had a heart attack. He had no previous cardio symptoms-the heart attack seemed to come out of the blue-but then he discovered the connection between diabetes and heart disease. His blood sugar wasn't drastically high. He had bypass surgery and recovered, and Khalsa began treating him.
Practitioner 2: Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa RH (AHG), DN-C
Dietician, herbalist, author, educator, and director of the International Integrative Educational Institute in Eugene, Ore. (internationalintegrative.com)
In addition to dietary changes, Khalsa treated Sam with three main herbs:
- Bitter melon, a common food in Asia, which can be sautéed like zucchini or juiced (two melons make about four ounces of juice). "Taken daily, this amount is about right to control blood sugar," says Khalsa.
- Fenugreek seeds, which help lower blood-sugar. They can be soaked overnight, bought as a powder, or ground in a coffee grinder. Khalsa suggested several tablespoons a day for Sam, but dosages vary depending on blood sugar level.
- Gymnema leaf, from a shrub native to India and Africa. One-to-10-gram capsules produce dramatic results. "This is the best blood sugar-lowering herb in the world," Khalsa notes.
Khalsa also gave Sam a glycemic index eating plan, in which every carbohydrate has a number between one and 100, representing the impact that food has on blood sugar. "All the legumes are down in the 30s," he says. "The lowest, black garbanzo beans, are a 7. White bread and white sugar are in the 70s. The more easily absorbed something is, the higher the number. It's a simple plan that gives people a target."
Sam has been on the plan five years. His blood sugar came under control within a month, and within six months, the pain in his feet reversed. He achieved normal body weight. He continues to eat foods low on the glycemic index. He's symptom-free, no longer diabetic, and takes no medication.
Patient 3: Julie, age 45.
Julie started treatment with Kirsten Nielsen, ND, in February 2014. She'd had gestational diabetes during her second pregnancy, and a couple years later developed type 2 diabetes. She was taking metformin but needed more because she wasn't exercising and lacked a healthy diet.
She had begun to experience side effects-especially indigestion-from the medication and became curious about natural medicine.
When she came to Nielsen, Julie had lost some weight, but she was hungry, had sugar cravings, her energy was low, and her blood pressure and cholesterol had started to go up. She couldn't keep up with her kids, couldn't motivate herself to exercise, had brain fog, and was missing work. Her grandparents had suffered from heart disease and blood sugar problems, so at age 45, she became frightened as she saw her symptoms worsen.
Practitioner 3: Kirsten Nielsen, ND
Vermont Naturo-pathic Clinic, South Burlington, Vt.
On the first visit, Nielsen measured Julie's bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA, a method of assessing body composition), believing that it's better to decrease body fat than overall weight. "Monitoring the BIA is a big part of treatment, seeing how the weight is changing," says Nielsen. "The BIA can estimate the basal metabolic rate (the number of calories each person needs to maintain body functions and weight). She needed 1,800 calories a day to maintain where she was. I changed how much she ate, not just what she ate."
Nielsen reduced Julie's calories to 1,300 a day, putting her on a high-volume Mediterranean diet of whole foods with a low glycemic index. The diet included plant-based foods, olive oil, and lean protein and poultry. Nielsen also put Julie on several nutritional supplements:
- L-glutamine (amino acid)-to aid gastrointestinal health and improve concentration and brain function. "Because of side effects from the medication, Julie used this as a main source of fuel."
- Chromium-to enhance the action of insulin in the body.
- Magnesium-"Julie's blood pressure was starting to rise, putting a strain on her kidneys. Magnesium helps relax the muscles in blood vessels. It's a mild treatment and a factor in blood glucose control."
- Vitamin C-this helps act as an antioxidant, protecting tissues from damage.
- Fish oil-An anti-inflammatory, it helps protect the blood vessels, bring down inflammation, and reduce cholesterol.
"After a few weeks on the eating plan and exercising, Julie's weight loss became fairly steady," Nielsen says. "Over six months, she lost 24 pounds. Her blood sugar control was much better, and her other physician reduced her metformin. Her energy level and nutrition were better, her muscular pain levels were going down, her indigestion was gone, she had better concentration, and her blood pressure and cholesterol counts were better."
A few months ago, Julie's weight loss stalled. It turned out she was intolerant to dairy. "Her immune system was overreacting to the foods. Health problems reach a threshold, and then we start seeing symptoms. She still has dairy once in a while, but she feels better if she doesn't."
Today Julie's treatment is going very well. "She's off the L-glutamine, except when she has the occasional sugar craving," says Nielsen. "She'll stay on the vitamin C and fish oil long-term because of her family history. She may not need the chromium."
Julie came in every week for six weeks when she first began making lifestyle changes. Her follow-up visits, every other week, included counseling on how to fit meal preparation into her weekly schedule while working full time. Now she comes in every month or so. "We'll do this until she reaches her goals," says Nielsen. "The accountability part of it really helps. We do goal-setting each month and she can see how she's doing. She discovers things that she can do." And that is the ultimate reward.