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Alternative Therapies Type 1 Diabetes

 

Overview of Type 1 Diabetes

 

            Type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes), is a chronic disorder in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.  Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar (glucose) into energy.  

Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, but is usually first seen in childhood or adolescence.  It is a very common illness in North America and estimates indicate that one in 500 children born in the USA will develop type 1 diabetes.  Overall it accounts for at least 5-10% of all cases of diabetes.

            There have been many hypotheses on what causes type 1 diabetes, but so far nothing conclusive is known.  Today, we have no cure for the disease.  However, great advances have been made for the home monitoring and treatment of diabetes.

 

            To understand type 1 diabetes, one has to understand something about glucose and its role in the body.  Glucose is a major source of energy and is used up by all the tissues of the body.  For all organs to survive, glucose must enter the cells.  This requires a hormone called insulin.  Insulin has the ability to drive glucose into cells and helps process the glucose for energy.  Therefore, insulin also controls the glucose levels in the body.

 

            Insulin is made in the pancreas and is released during times when blood glucose levels are high.  In type 1 diabetes, the body fails to make insulin and thus the glucose levels remain very high.  Usually, the reason that the body does not make insulin is because the diabetic’s immune system destroys the insulin producing cells, though this is not a universal finding.  In others, the cause may be genetic or may be related to a viral infection.  Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, the risk of having the disease is greatly increased if a child has a parent or sibling with the same condition.

 

            Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually appear suddenly.  The disease can first start with varied symptoms, so parents need to be vigilant and knowledgeable of the disease to spot it early.  The diagnosis is easy if you know about the disease.  The symptoms may include:

-         high sugar levels in the blood

-         high levels of sugar in the urine

-         extreme thirst

-         frequent urination

-         extreme hunger

-         loss of weight

-         blurred vision

-         nausea and vomiting

-         abdominal pain

-         weakness and fatigue

-         irritability and mood changes

 

            The diagnosis of diabetes involves a few basic tests which include randomly checking blood sugar and checking fasting blood sugar.  Normally, a blood sample is taken randomly and blood sugar levels are measured.  If blood sugar levels are greater than 200 mg/dl, regardless of the time of a meal, diabetes should be suspected.  If the previous test is above 200 mg/dl, the blood sugar level is measured again after an overnight fast.  The normal glucose level after fasting is between 70-100mg/dl.  If the level of glucose is greater than 126 mg/dl, then a diagnosis of diabetes is made.  Additional tests may include the detection of antibodies towards insulin and the presence of ketones in the urine.

 

            To assess how well diabetes is controlled, a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test is done.  If glucose is present in the body for a long time, it will bind to hemoglobin and measuring HbA1c lets the physician know well the disorder has been controlled over the past few months. In most individuals the HbA1c levels are less than 7%.

 

Current Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to devastating complications including high blood sugar,            low blood sugar, extreme thirst, frequent urination, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), extreme lethargy, coma, seizures and even death.


            Long-term complications of type 1 diabetes develop if the blood sugar has not been controlled for long periods.  The complications are serious and are rarely reversible such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage and diabetic foot.

 

            There is only one treatment for Type 1 diabetes and that is daily insulin.

There is absolutely no other substitute.  Treatment for type 1 diabetes is a lifelong commitment of monitoring blood sugar, taking insulin, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.  The goal is to maintain blood glucose within normal limits.  Tighter control of blood sugar levels can reduce the risk of diabetes-related heart attacks and strokes by more than 50 percent.
      

            No matter what type of insulin is used, monitoring of blood glucose is essential.  Careful monitoring is the only way to make sure that your blood sugar level remains within your target range.  Type 1 diabetes is a very fragile and unpredictable condition and blood glucose levels can be affected by:

- Food

- Other medical illness

- Exercise

- Medications

- Infections

- Alcohol

- Stress

- Menstrual cycle

 

            Insulin is life saving for type 1 diabetics.  Today, there are a variety of insulin products which have to be injected on a daily basis.  Many types of insulin are available, including rapid-acting insulin, long-acting insulin and intermediate options.  Inhaled insulin (Exubera) is now available as well and is rapidly acting.  However, caution should be exercised since recent studies do indicate that it may cause low sugars in some patients.

 

            Diabetes also profoundly affects the gut and causes slowing of the bowels.  Many diabetics complain of constipation and feeling bloated.  Thus, some individuals may require medications (like Reglan) to help move the bowels.

 

            The only potential cure for type 1 diabetes is a pancreas transplant.  However, of all the organ transplants, pancreas and islet cell transplants have had the least success.  And even after a successful transplant, one has to take life-long immunosuppressive drugs that are associated with numerous side effects which are worse than the diabetes itself.

 

            Recently stem cell transplants have been accomplished in a few individuals and the short term results are excellent.  However, the procedure does involve taking some high risk drugs to suppress the immune system to allow for acceptance of stem cells.

 

Nutritional Therapies for Type 1 Diabetes

 

Given that diabetes is a disease of uncontrolled blood sugar, diabetics need to pay careful attention to their diet.  Medical nutrition therapy is an integral component of diabetes management and of diabetes self-management education.  Yet many misconceptions exist concerning nutrition and diabetes.  Despite what everyone thinks there is no such thing as a diabetic diet.

 

                 Diabetics should reduce their intake of total fat, mainly saturated fat, which is known to worsen diabetes and make the control of blood glucose difficult.  Except for the omega-3 fatty acids, most fats have an adverse effect on insulin action.  Some dieticians recommend that intake of unsaturated fatty acids are beneficial in the long term management of diabetes.

 

                Recent studies also indicate that there is a decreased risk of diabetes with increased intake of whole grains and dietary fiber.  Although few micronutrients may affect glucose and insulin metabolism, data to document their role in the development of diabetes are lacking.  In fact, a moderate amount of alcohol intake has recently been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and improve glucose control.  However, recommending alcohol consumption as therapy may lead to worsening of the social problems related to alcoholism, not to mention its damaging effects on the liver.

 

                 The best way to control diabetes is by being smart and selecting foods that will keep not only the sugar down, but will also help to control weight gain and decrease cholesterol.  This can be achieved by changing to a diet with fewer calories and less fat; this can be accomplished by eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, sea food and legumes instead of red meat.

 

            Diabetics should try to eat a healthy diet which derives at least 20% of the daily calories from protein such as lean meats, 30% or less from fat and the rest from carbohydrates.  It is best to become a label-based shopper, checking which foods are sugar and fat free. Some labels even mention which foods are good for diabetics.

 

            When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no rule on how much diabetics can drink.  Alcohol is known to lower blood sugar, so it is advised that if it is consumed that it is with meals.  But everything in moderation; diabetics should not treat the diabetes and at the same time become alcoholic.  Be aware that brandy and some liqueurs have very high sugar content.

 

            Because diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, diabetics should make every attempt to control their cholesterol levels.  There are drugs to decrease cholesterol levels, but the best therapy is exercise.

 

            All diabetics should have regular visits with a nutritionist or a dietician.  These individuals can help you with developing a well balanced diet and can monitor your progress.  They can also teach you about how the foods you eat affect your glucose levels and help you coordinate your diabetes medications with meals.  The dietician will work with you to create a health eating plan what will include all your favorite foods.

 

            Diabetes does not mean not enjoying food.  In moderation, almost all types of food can be eaten by diabetics.  Also, many diabetics try herbal remedies to try to control their blood sugar, but nutritional therapies are often safer and easier to understand, so some people are turning to mineral supplements instead of herbs.

 

One mineral that shows great promise for diabetics is chromium.  For years, research has revealed that chromium may in fact have some ability to control blood glucose.  Some patients have benefited from chromium supplements, but it still is not the magic pill.  Current recommended dosages for chromium are 200 micrograms taken three times daily.

 

            Another element that has been postulated to lower blood sugar is magnesium.  Individuals in the nutrition business always believe that if something is lower than normal in the body, then it must be the direct cause of a disease. Low magnesium levels may have absolutely nothing to do with diabetes and the levels may be low because of the excess urinary excretion.  But it is not a bad idea to get adequate magnesium daily through a supplement.

 

            The best advice for all diabetic individuals is that there is little evidence that most minerals or elements control diabetes.  If one eats a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, no other supplements may be necessary.

 

Lifestyle Changes for Type 1 Diabetes

 

            Unfortunately, it is not yet known how type 1 diabetes can be prevented or how it can be cured.  It is a serious chronic disease and the individual has to adapt to it.  Diabetes is relatively easy to control but the complications of diabetes are devastating.  To avoid the complications, the following changes in lifestyle will make one’s life a lot bearable and hassle free.  

 

Despite what everyone thinks there is no such thing as a diabetic diet – the only criteria is to eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains but limit the calories, fat, and sugar content.  Sugary foods can be eaten but that makes control of blood sugar difficult.  A regular appointment with a dietician is highly recommended.

 

Like everyone, type 1 diabetics should also exercise.  The exercise will prevent weight gain and help control the blood sugar.  For those diabetics who start to exercise, glucose levels should be measured more frequently to ensure that low blood sugar does not occur.

 

Learn as much as you can about your disease.  Being knowledgeable can help a diabetic understand and appreciate the disorder and adjust accordingly.  One should regularly see an endocrinologist and a nutritionist.  Wear an identification bracelet so emergency personnel know you are diabetic.  This important tag will ensure that all health care workers know your condition and will immediately identify any treat any serious complications that may arise.

 

Keep a glucagon kit nearby in case of a low blood sugar emergency. Make sure those around you know how to use it.  It is very important to see a physician regularly because of the multitude of complications that can occur.  Both the kidney and eyes should be frequently checked.  Keep up-to-date on immunizations because the high blood sugar can weaken your immune system.  The high blood sugar also makes one more prone to numerous infections.

 

The high blood sugar can destroy your gums and teeth through recurrent infections.  Brush your teeth daily, and get regular dental exams.  There is no other more devastating complication than the diabetic foot.  When diabetes is not controlled, the majority of individuals will eventually end up with amputations of their toes or their legs.  One should avoid all trauma to the feet and wear proper protective shoes.  All injury or infection of the feet must be immediately seen by a physician.

 

Most diabetics develop a high blood pressure because of the stiffening of their blood vessels.  Their blood pressure must be maintained within normal limits and routine checks up are a must.  Because diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, one should make every attempt to control cholesterol levels.  The combination of cholesterol and diabetes is bad news.

 

This social habit worsens and increases the risk of every type of diabetic complication.  In simple, diabetics should not smoke.  The majority who do smoke will have their feet/legs amputated or die from a heart attack.  Stress is bad for all disorders and diabetes is no exception.  Stress can worsen high blood sugar and make it difficult to control.  Relax, sleep well and live an active life.

 

            Type 1 diabetes is devastating when it occurs in a young child. The child usually does not understand this life-long ailment and frequently fails to understand the need for frequent glucose monitoring and daily insulin injections.  The majority of children with type 1 diabetes go on to develop some type of mental anguish including:

-         hostility

-         fear of death

-         guilty

-         loneliness

-         depression

-         isolation

 

            The best thing for the parent is to not be over protective as this will just feed into the mental anguish.  Encouragement, teaching and improving self-esteem and independence of the child are key to coping with the illness.

 

            Type 1 diabetes is a difficult illness and controlling it requires a lot of don’ts and patience.  The outcome is good for those who control their blood sugar, and for those who do not, life can be very unpleasant – one can end up losing their limbs, eyes, kidneys and even life.

 

Herbal Treatments for Diabetes

            There is only one treatment for type 1 diabetes and that is insulin.  There is no other agent, chemical, nutrient, element or mineral that is a replacement for insulin.  Many individuals with type 1 diabetes have died as a result of stopping insulin.  Herbs may be taken as an additional supplement but these natural plants and minerals play more of a role in type 2 diabetes.    

 

Sweet Eze is a combination of herbs and is a self-rescribed nutrient.  Reports from diabetics indicate that they were off the diabetic medications after taking Sweet Eze.  However, recent data from the FDA indicate that there are other chemicals in Sweet Eze which are not listed on the product label and there are no controlled studies which have shown its benefits.  Caution is advised.  There are a lot of reports on Fenugreek and its ability to lower blood sugar.  Some studies have confirmed this finding but little is known how it controls diabetes.

 

Toronto, the home of the discovery of insulin, has been a Mecca for herbs and nutrients in the treatment of diabetes. Research indicates that ginseng did lower blood glucose in type 2 diabetes over a prolonged period.  However, despite these encouraging results, the researchers caution that it is too early for diabetic patients to rely only on ginseng.  They note that that there was a wide difference in the effect seen depending on where the ginseng was bought.  Because of the lack of standardization of most herbs, it is difficult to know for certain what one is buying and impossible to ensure consistent dosages.  In addition, all the active ingredients in ginseng have not been identified.

           

At present, be aware that there is no substitute for insulin in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.  For type 2 diabetes, some herbs may have a role but because of the lack of standardization and absolutely no quality control, the ADA has steered patients away from herbal therapies.  Recently Chinese herbs were found to contain prescription diabetic medications as a fraudulent attempt to trick patients.

 

            If one does decide to try herbs or minerals, discuss this with your doctor and herbalist so they may adjust your medications appropriately.  Many individuals have lost their lives when relying on unfounded therapies.  Diabetes is a disorder with very high mortality when not treated appropriately.



Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

 

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