Think of type 2 diabetes as an extreme form of insulin resistance. In type 2 diabetes, your pancreas usually still makes some insulin — the hormone that helps blood sugar enter cells — but your body isn’t very good at using it. That leaves more blood sugar, or glucose, floating around in the bloodstream. Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar level with diet and exercise alone; others (usually those who’ve had the disease for years) also need oral medication or, eventually, insulin shots.
Our goal is to provide you with the top integrative therapies to enable you to remain medication free or, with your doctor’s approval, reduce the amount you’re taking. If you’re able to move from insulin to an oral medication, we’ll consider that a success. Do not go off your medication without first discussing it with your physician.
You also need to consider other health conditions that often coexist with diabetes. For instance, many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. You’re also more likely to develop high cholesterol and coronary artery disease. And diabetes is first and foremost an inflammatory disease.
Our best advice concentrates on nonmedical treatments that can increase the effectiveness of diabetes drugs or insulin, or help you use less.
- Add at least one high-fiber food (like a vegetable, whole fruit, beans, or whole grain rice, cereal, or pasta) to every meal.
- At least once a day, substitute a low-glycemic food for a higher glycemic choice, like whole grain bread for white bread, a bran muffin for a bagel, whole wheat pasta for regular white pasta, etc.
- After checking with your doctor, start exercising at least 20 minutes a day.
- Start meditating 15 minutes a day or take yoga class three times a week.
- Take a multiple vitamin/mineral every day.
Why It Works
Fiber slows the speed at which your stomach empties after a meal, which also slows the rise in blood sugar that happens after you eat. It’s best to get your fiber from food (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes). An excellent source is oat bran. One study found that simply eating a slice of oat bran bread with meals improved post-meal blood sugar and cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Aim for about 2 ounces of oat bran a day for best results.
If you just can’t stomach enough fiber-rich food, take 5 to 10 grams of a fiber supplement such as psyllium or guar gum before meals. Caution: Fiber supplements can make it difficult for your body to absorb drugs and other supplements, so take your pills at least an hour before, or several hours after, taking a fiber supplement.
The glycemic index ranks foods according to how quickly the carbohydrates they contain increase blood sugar levels — the lower the score, the slower the rise in blood sugar. High-fiber foods are usually relatively low on the glycemic index. Stick with a diet high in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods like beans, oats, and bran, and you’ll do well. An article that evaluated 16 clinical trials on the effects of a low-glycemic diet on blood sugar found that such diets significantly reduced levels of fructosamine, a marker indicating blood glucose levels over two or three weeks, as well as total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
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Exercise makes your body more sensitive to insulin; in other words, it essentially helps to reverse your diabetes (it helps stave off the disease as well). In addition to lowering your blood sugar, it also lowers your risk of heart disease, which is high if you have diabetes. We’re not talking about marathons here — 20 to 30 minutes a day of physical activity, ideally a mix of aerobic exercise and strength training — is all it takes.
Exercise also helps by decreasing the production of stress hormones, which raise blood sugar. Meditation and yoga lower stress hormones too. Studies from Duke University find such relaxation techniques can significantly reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Finally, the multivitamin/mineral is important to counteract oxidative stress, a main culprit behind many diabetes-related complications, including heart disease and nerve damage.
Particularly important vitamins/minerals include vitamin E (400 IU a day), vitamin C (500 to 1,000 milligrams a day), magnesium (300 to 600 milligrams a day), and zinc (30 milligrams a day). If you can’t find these amounts in one supplement, take separate supplements.
Two studies found that taking a daily combination of these four micronutrients for three months significantly decreased blood sugar levels while increasing levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. An added benefit of a daily multivitamin is that it seems to reduce your risk of infections, which is higher if you have diabetes.