Diabetes is one of the biggest preventable diseases among older people; and yet, in Canada it is the fourth leading cause of death. It is also the leading cause of kidney failure, adult blindness and amputations. If you have diabetes, you double your risk of stroke and heart failure.

In Canada, 1.5 million people have diabetes and only half of them are aware of it. Many people have symptoms and don’t understand that those symptoms may be related to their blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is either Type 1 or Type 2. The symptoms are the same: excessive thirst, hunger, weight loss, frequent urination, blurred vision and fatigue.

Type 1 diabetes usually shows up in childhood or in adults with an injured or diseased pancreas. In Type 1 the pancreas is unable to produce insulin and therefore can’t move sugar from the blood to the cells. Daily insulin injections are necessary.

Type 2 is called adult onset diabetes. In this case, the pancreas produces insulin but the cells are unable to absorb glucose. Type 2 can often be treated by diet, exercise and weight control. If insulin levels remain out of control, insulin shots may be used to temporarily restore levels – then a good diet assumes major importance.

A good diet consists of three small meals per day plus a mid-morning, mid-afternoon and evening snack. All refined sugars should be eliminated. Avoid processed foods, cookies, pastries, white flour, white pasta, candy – these foods will raise the blood sugar rapidly and trigger a more sudden release of insulin.

Make sure your diet is high in complex carbohydrates and fibre such as whole grains, legumes, (beans are especially good at lowering the blood sugar level) and vegetables. You also need about 60 grams of protein per day. Onions and garlic significantly lower blood sugar levels.

It’s also important to check for food intolerances, which can worsen diabetes by causing inflammation in the body. Keep alcohol to a minimum. Many alcoholics have blood sugar problems.

There are many supplements that go a long way to preventing high blood sugar and maintaining an even blood sugar level. Start with a good multi-mineral and vitamin. Add 400 mcgs of chromium – it helps to stabilize blood sugar. Vitamin C is often low in diabetics so I recommend 1,000 mgs twice a day. Niacinimide plays a vital role in energy production and metabolism. Vitamin E is an important anti-oxidant that enhances the action of insulin. And zinc is needed in all aspects of insulin metabolism.

One of the effects of diabetes is that the blood vessels in the extremities such as the feet become damaged. Ginko Biloba will help to open up these vessels. The herb bitter melon can lower blood sugar and enhance glucose control. Bilberry is useful in treating many of the eye conditions that go along with diabetes.

Exercise will improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. It also helps to increase the chromium concentration in the tissues. As a matter of fact, studies show that many people who have gone on a regular exercise program can reduce their amount of insulin.

Certainly complementary medicine has a large role to play in the management of Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.