Diabetes is a serious chronic disorder that's associated with numerous long-term complications if not properly controlled. The main four areas of the body affected by diabetic complications are the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and lining of blood vessels and organs. These areas don't require insulin to absorb glucose into their cells, (as opposed liver, muscle and fat cells); therefore, when blood sugar levels are elevated, glucose floods these cells and causes significant damage.
The Trouble with Glucose
The most important factor in preventing major complications of diabetes is maintaining blood sugar control through diet and supplementation, as out of control glucose levels can cause all sorts of havoc. For example, when glucose binds to low-density lipoprotein (LDL), it prevents the LDL from binding to receptors that tell the liver to stop manufacturing cholesterol. As a result, the liver "thinks" there's a shortage of cholesterol in the body and continues to produce more. This is one reason why diabetes is almost always associated with high cholesterol levels.
A valuable laboratory test for evaluating long-term blood glucose levels is the A1C test that measures the amount of glucose attached (glycosylated) to hemoglobin in red blood cells. The higher the percent of glycosylated hemoglobin, the greater the risk for all complications of diabetes.
Since the average life span of a red blood cell (RBC) is 120 days, the A1C assay represents time-averaged values for blood glucose over the preceding two to four months. Maintaining hemoglobin A1C levels near normal (≤7%) can reduce the risk of eye problems by up to 76 percent, nerve damage by up to 60 percent, and kidney disease by up to 56 percent in patients with diabetes.
Increased oxidative stress is another factor in the development of diabetes complications. People with diabetes typically have elevated levels of free radicals and oxidative compounds in their bodies. These highly reactive compounds bind to and destroy cellular compounds, cause damage all over the body, and increase insulin resistance.
Nutrient deficiencies have also been shown to contribute to several chronic complications of diabetes, and proper supplementation has been found in studies to help diabetic patients with glucose control lower their blood pressure and protect their bodies from diabetic complications. In general, the risk of long-term complications of diabetes is inversely proportional to micronutrient status-the levels of vitamins and minerals in the body.
There are several natural products that can help improve blood sugar control. Chief among these are highly viscous dietary fiber supplements such as PGX, and herbal extracts containing Gymnema sylvestre, cinnamon, mulberry, and other botanicals.
Here are four more natural ways to help prevent diabetes complications:
1. A high-potency multivitamin/multimineral. People with diabetes have higher requirements for many nutrients, especially water-soluble vitamins and minerals. Studies have shown that supplementation with these nutrients can improve blood sugar control as well as help prevent or reduce the development of major complications of diabetes. Furthermore, taking a multivitamin/multimineral supplement has been shown to boost immune function and reduce infections in diabetics. By high-potency, I mean the product should provide at least three to five times the RDI for water-soluble vitamins, a minimum of the RDI for fat-soluble vitamins, and a full range of minerals (especially chromium).
2. Magnesium. Chromium gets most of the attention as a critical factor in the action of insulin, but magnesium is also essential. Evidence indicates that people with diabetes should take magnesium supplements, especially since more than half of all diabetics show evidence of magnesium deficiency.
Clinical studies have shown that magnesium supplements improve insulin response and action, glucose tolerance, and the fluidity of the RBC membrane in patients with diabetes. For best results, take a highly absorbable form of magnesium, such as magnesium aspartate or magnesium citrate, and aim for 300-500 mg per day (be sure to include the amount supplied in your multiple when calculating how much extra magnesium you need to take). Note: Check with your physician about magnesium supplementation if you suffer from significant kidney failure or are on dialysis.
3. Flavonoid-rich extracts. Recent research shows that flavonoids are extremely important in preventing long-term complications, especially diabetic retinopathy. There is tremendous overlap among the mechanisms of action and benefits of flavonoid-rich extracts. Choose one of the following:
- Bilberry extract (25% anthocyanidins): 160-320 mg daily.
- Grape seed or pine bark extract (95% procyanidolic oligomers): 150-300 mg daily.
- Green tea extract (>80% total polyphenols): 150-300 mg daily.
- Milk thistle extract (70% silymarin): 210-350 mg daily.
4. Alpha-lipoic acid. This vitamin-like substance is often described as "nature's perfect antioxidant," as it can quench either water- or fat-soluble free radicals both inside and outside of cells. Alpha-lipoic acid has been successfully used in Germany in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy for more than 30 years. Although alpha-lipoic acid's primary effect in improving diabetic neuropathy is thought to be the result of its antioxidant effects, it has also been shown to lead to an improvement in blood glucose metabolism, improve blood flow to peripheral nerves, and actually stimulate the regeneration of nerve fibers. Take 400-600 mg daily.
Enjoy the Benefits
Of course, these are just a few of the options that have been found to be helpful in preventing the consequences of diabetes. It may seem like a lot of supplements to take, but there are sound reasons for doing so-most importantly because these recommendations go a long way in reducing suffering and extending a diabetic's quality of life.
Michael T. Murray, ND, is the author of more than 30 books on natural health, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. He is regarded as one of the world's top authorities on natural medicine, and is a sought-after lecturer and educator. Visit him online at doctormurray.com.