We all want infinite horizons for our children. But, here’s a new fact to ponder. Our children are now developing adult type diabetes before they are even out of high school, and may be the first generation to live shorter sicker lives than their parents because of it. There is something very wrong with that picture. Since nature usually doesn’t get it wrong, it’s a sure sign that it is something we are doing that is at the root of the problem.
The flip side? We can change our ways!
What exactly is diabetes and how do we get it? Diabetes is best thought of as a break down in the system and is most commonly recognized as high blood sugar. “Treating” it is only half of the battle. The way to think about it is that prevention and treatment are just different ends of the spectrum of the same problem. In other words, the best way to treat diabetes is to go back to the basics of prevention. Pay attention to metabolism, the foods we eat and the lives we live. In other words, eat right, get exercise, de-stress, remove toxins and pollutants from our environment, get rid of inflammation and get the system working right.
Let’s focus on some basic science for just a minute. Studies are showing that diabetes is in many ways, a mitochondrial and inflammatory problem. The mitochondria are the tiny little batteries or engines of our cells. Each cell in the body has hundreds to thousands of them. That adds up to a lot of mitochondria. The fuel the mitochondria use are the food, vitamins and minerals that we eat. First off, food has to make its way into the mitochondria. For instance, fats are an important fuel source and have to be carried into the mitochondria via a carnitine shuttle. But, evidence is collecting showing the shuttle becomes weakened in diabetes. Food in combination with oxygen creates energy. But along the way that produces “exhaust” called free radicals. That is what is called oxidation and that is why anti-oxidants are so important.
If this system breaks down there is too much oxidation, which causes inflammation, resulting in a vicious cycle and a poorly working system. Oxidation and inflammation lead to the involvement of hormones and regulating proteins called PPARS and NFkappaB.. Pretty soon, the message for glucose to be taken up into the muscle becomes weakened and it requires more and more insulin to get the message thru. That’s diabetes. It is complicated, and science is beginning to unravel more and more of the specifics. Overweight is often a precursor to diabetes and is also a sign of poorly functioning mitochondria, inflammation and dysfunctional hormonal regulatory systems. Bottom line? Things start to fall apart when the machine doesn’t work smoothly.
Ok, so how do foods, exercise, stress and toxins in the environment translate into high blood sugar? The short answer is that they can all affect how smoothly the mitochondria and hormone systems work. The right foods and vitamin rich foods are necessary for the enzymes in the mitochondria and the hormone systems to work properly. Toxins, for example, can block some of the enzymes. Stress can affect many systems and hormones. Exercise makes the mitochondria stronger and helps force glucose into the muscles so that not as much insulin is needed.
What can we do about it? Well, a whole foods diet is a great start. In other words, nothing processed. Think about it for a minute. A lot of packaged and processed foods have large amounts of sugar, processed starches and corn products, in addition to various additives. The result is too much easy sugar, too many calories and not enough nutrients. High fructose corn syrup is a common easily absorbed simple sugar. It turns into sugar very quickly in the body. Even healthy processed foods, like whole grain bread – are still processed to some degree. Something has been done to the whole food to allow it to become something else that is a couple steps closer to, you guessed it, pure sugar.
The problem is that the body is designed to work hard to break things down. The regulation seems to break down when we make it too easy on ourselves. Sugar is as easy as it gets. So if we eat whole foods, lots of veggies and some fruit, and fewer starchy vegetables and sugary fruits, our bodies are much more efficient. Plus, whole foods have bucketfuls of vitamins and minerals, fiber and other nutrients that help give our genes, hormones and enzymes the messages and nutrients they need.
There are other things that we can do as well. For instance, studies have shown that diabetics may be helped by supplementing the diet with chromium, a mineral that is already in the diet in very small amounts. Sometimes, anti-oxidant supplements, such as alpha-lipoic acid or B vitamins might be useful. Even the types of bacteria in the intestinal system appear to have an impact on weight and the immune system so that probiotics can even have a place Stress is known to worsen diabetes and there are various ways to address that. Exercise helps the mitochondria become stronger and more efficient and helps glucose to be taken up into the muscle. Sometimes it even helps to use testing for chronic lowgrade infections or to test the functioning of the mitochondria.
While there is much we don’t know about diabetes, optimizing our nutrition, habits and environment are sensible ways to keep diabetes from being a part of our lives.
Because, we all want the brightest horizon we can have.