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Diabetes Mellitus is a broad term for conditions related to high blood sugar levels.
This complex endocrine condition involves organs, hormones and sugars. It can be tricky to understand, so don’t worry if you have diabetes and are still trying to understand the condition.
Let’s start with understanding blood sugar.
Glucose (a sugar) is the same as blood sugar. It’s used to create energy and fuel the cells in your body. For this reason, your brain, muscles and tissues can’t work properly without it.
A healthy blood sugar reading is between 4.0 and 7.8 millimoles of glucose per litre of blood.
Living with high blood sugar in the long term can cause serious health problems. Moreover, it’s important to know why and how your diabetes symptoms are occurring.
Usually, your pancreas is the culprit as it’s predominantly responsible for blood sugar balance. It does this by secreting Insulin, a hormone that your body’s cells need to absorb glucose.
Glucose is supposed to move into the bloodstream after you eat. But, this only happens if your pancreas produces enough insulin. By design, the pancreas automatically releases the correct amount of insulin as needed. But, people with diabetes mellitus have an unhappy pancreas that either:
a) produces insufficient amounts of insulin
b) doesn’t use insulin correctly.
Having diabetes causes glucose to adversely rise in the blood. The body knows this is a problem, so it tries to get rid of it by filtering blood through the kidneys. Eventually, excess glucose is excreted via the urine. This causes the body to lose its main source of energy. It also creates diabetes symptoms, and can lead to diabetic complications, including:
Many people with diabetes are first diagnosed with prediabetes. This is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to classify as diabetes.
If your blood sugar remains uncontrolled, you may move into a diabetic category. According to Diabetes Australia, there are 3 main types of diabetes.
Occurs when the body’s immune system attacks your pancreas, which causes destruction of the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. The only diabetes treatment for this type is daily insulin injections.
Develops when the pancreas doesn’t create enough insulin, or the body resists insulin (insulin resistance). It usually progresses over time, but is modifiable with diet and lifestyle.
When diabetes develops during pregnancy. It doesn’t necessarily impact the unborn child, though it can if it’s not managed. Pregnant women need to check for this at 24-28 weeks, as symptoms can be subtle.
Famous singer, Marcia Hines, knows what it’s like to live with diabetes. She was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 when she was 33 years old. This came as a shock as Marcia was very active, but her eating habits had declined.
“I was skipping meals. There’d be days when I didn’t eat. I was losing oodles of weight. I was thirsty all the time, and, without being vulgar, I was peeing like a pregnant woman!”
It wasn’t until Marcia visited the dentist that she understood what was going on.
“I wasn’t sick, but I had a procedure done on one of my teeth and it just wouldn’t heal. It just kept throbbing for days. I went to the doctor and that was when I was diagnosed with diabetes.”
This was the wake up call Marcia needed to clean up her diet. She now eats mindfully and uses insulin injections as diabetes treatment. This keeps Marcia feeling healthy and happy.
Common diabetes symptoms include:
Physical: Frequent urination, increased thirst, unintended weight loss, strong appetite, blurry vision, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, tiredness, fatigue, dry skin, slow wound healing, susceptible to infections, nausea, stomach pains.
Psychological: Irritability, brain fog, memory changes, anxiety.
If you have a few of these diabetes symptoms, please see your doctor for diabetes screening.
Doctors usually prescribe medication as diabetes treatment, as well as diet and lifestyle changes. These treatment options work best when blood sugar levels are monitored regularly.
Researchers are still uncovering all the diabetes causes. Here’s what’s currently known to impact each diabetes type.
Type 1 Diabetes: Genetics, some viruses, autoimmunity (immune dysfunction).
Type 2 Diabetes: Being overweight, physically inactive, eating a high sugar diet, regularly skipping meals, high LDL cholesterol, long term stress.
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: Risk factors include being prediabetic, family history of diabetes, being pregnant after 40 years old, having polycystic ovarian syndrome, using steroid or anti-psychotic medications.
Nutrition Assessment – Visit a Nutritionist after your diabetes diagnosis to assess your diet. They can give you a dietary plan and meal suggestions to support your blood sugar levels – day and night. This is important, as using medications without considering your diet increases your risk of complications.
Supplements – Vitamins, minerals and herbs can help improve blood glucose levels and pancreatic health. People with prediabetes and diabetes type 2 often try these as a first line of treatment. It’s best to see a Naturopath for advice, as each person requires different support. Common choices include:
Spices – Some cooking spices help to regulate blood sugar levels. Use these antidiabetic spices in your cooking regularly e.g. Cinnamon, Fenugreek, Garlic, Onion, Turmeric, Cumin, Ginger, Fennel.
Exercise – This helps to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake. It’s especially important if you’re overweight or have type 2 diabetes. All types of exercise are useful, including yoga and pilates.
Acupuncture – This may help reduce fasting and post-eating blood glucose. It may also increase insulin production, and reduce insulin resistance.
Relaxation – Long term stress increases your risk of diabetes. It causes adrenaline to flood your blood, which makes it harder to control blood sugar levels. You may like to try these stress-reducing techniques: meditation, massage, yoga or breathwork.
The following health experts can help with diabetes mellitus:
Here’s how to support someone with diabetes:
What are the first diabetes symptoms?
What are 5 diabetes causes?
Is there a natural diabetes treatment?
Natural therapies can help diabetes – but they’re not suitable for everyone. If you have type 1 diabetes, talk with a health expert before starting natural treatments. You’ll need to combine insulin injections with natural options. If you have type 2 diabetes, there are many natural diabetes treatments you can try. Begin with exercising regularly and eating a low GI diet. You can also use supplements, acupuncture and relaxation therapies to support the pancreas and blood glucose.