If you have a sweet tooth, chances are you have been warned of the dangers of diabetes. But do you really know the serious impact it can have on your health?
There are currently about 2.5 million adults with diabetes in Malaysia. Even more shocking is the fact that this rate is actually the highest across Asia and one of the highest in the entire world.
In conjunction with World Diabetes Day, let’s learn more about this disease.
What is diabetes?
The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which transports glucose from food to cells where it is converted into energy.
When the body is unable to produce a sufficient amount of insulin (or none at all), diabetes occurs.
Sometimes, the body cannot use its insulin effectively, which also causes diabetes.
Having diabetes means that blood glucose levels remain high for a long time and this leads to various health complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage and foot problems.
Diabetes also affects the body’s ability to protect and heal itself from within, due to increased free radicals, decreased antioxidants, and a lack of key vitamins and minerals.
Research shows that diabetics are commonly deficient in vital nutrients such as vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C and E, as well as magnesium, chromium and biotin.
Symptoms of diabetes
If you’re concerned about high blood sugar, look out for the following signs:
• Urinating often
• Feeling very thirsty
• Feeling very hungry even though you are eating regularly
• Extreme fatigue
• Blurry vision
• Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
• Weight loss even though you are eating more
• Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet
Take note, however, that some type 2 diabetics may experience such mild symptoms that the disease can go unnoticed for a long time.
Who is at risk?
You could be in danger of diabetes if you are:
• Aged 45 or older
• Overweight or obese
• Physically inactive
Other risk factors include:
• Family history of diabetes
• High cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• History of heart disease or stroke
• Prediabetes or gestational diabetes during pregnancy
Other causes of diabetes have been reported, but such cases are rare:
• Genetic mutations
• Hormonal diseases
• Certain medications
• Damage to the pancreas
How to prevent diabetes
High blood sugar and diabetes can be prevented naturally with a healthy lifestyle:
• Exercise: Fitness increases insulin sensitivity and helps insulin convert glucose to be used by the body.
Burning fuel also improves overall health and sheds excess weight, reducing or eliminating the need for medication.
• Reduce stress: Stress releases hormones that raise your blood sugar. Take some time off and treat yourself to whatever helps you relax.
• Stop using digital devices at night. Blue light from tablets and mobile phones harm your eyes and keep you awake.
Inadequate rest can elevate blood sugar levels, so make sure you get enough sleep.
• Drink up: This will flush out excess fluids from your bloodstream, but make sure it’s water in your glass and not sweet drinks or alcohol.
• Increase your intake of fibre, dark leafy greens and lean protein.
A healthy diet lowers blood sugar levels, slows down digestion of carbohydrates and decreases risk of diabetes. \
Multivitamins can also help supplement your diet with specific nutrients that are necessary for diabetics.
Key nutrients for diabetics
Because diabetics have lower levels of certain nutrients and antioxidants in their bodies, they have very specific dietary needs.
Supplementation should include vitamins and minerals that have been shown to improve blood sugar control and prevent or reduce the development of major complications often associated with diabetes like peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage).
Vitamin B1 is part of an enzyme that helps produce energy and metabolise carbohydrates. Diabetics and pre-diabetics are often deficient in vitamin B1.
As a component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), vitamin B3 (niacinamide) aids carbohydrate metabolism.
It also controls blood sugar through a mechanism unrelated to GTF.
Most diabetics are deficient in vitamin B6, which protects against the development of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) is a key component of carbohydrate metabolism. However, B12 deficiency is significantly greater in diabetics.
Vitamin C levels also tend to be lower in those with diabetes, leading to sorbitol accumulation in red blood cells, and ultimately, certain types of end-organ damage.
Vitamin E and selenium are essential antioxidants that prevent free radical damage. They are also involved in glucose balance.
Zinc is important for insulin synthesis by pancreatic B cells and insulin binding to liver and fat tissue cells.
A deficiency of zinc may lead to significantly higher glucose levels and lower insulin levels.
Manganese is a cofactor for certain key enzymes involved in the metabolism of sugar.
Alpha lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant highly recommended for diabetics and those with high blood sugar. It is involved in turning glucose into energy and improves glucose uptake by muscle.
Apart from neutralising free radicals, it promotes removal of glucose from the blood and helps prevent diabetic complications.
Clinical research has proven that vanadium can increase insulin sensitivity due to its insulin-like effects. This trace mineral is especially important for people with blood sugar abnormalities.
Chromium boosts insulin sensitivity in diabetic and pre-diabetic patients by increasing the amount and activity of insulin receptors on cells for greater efficiency of glucose uptake.
It also allows better control of sugar with less insulin and helps control weight gain and fat accumulation, decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Besides enhancing insulin sensitivity, biotin plays a strong role in stabilising blood sugar levels.
Biotin-independent enzymes acetyl CoA carboxylase and pyruvate carboxylase are vital for those with blood sugar disorders.
The right vitamins and minerals help diabetics manage healthy blood glucose levels and improve general well-being.
However, some of the most important nutrients for their condition – alpha lipoic acid, vanadium, chromium and biotin – are not commonly found in regular multivitamins.
Alpha lipoic acid is especially vital as it is a triple action antioxidant.
Firstly, it is soluble in both fat and water, so it can fight free radicals in both environments. This makes it more effective compared to other antioxidants.
Rapidly absorbed and transported across cell membranes, it is able to protect cells inside and out.
Finally, it has the unique ability to regenerate and recycle other antioxidants to continue destroying free radicals.
Vanadium has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics.
It mimics the effects of insulin in the body, thereby boosting uptake of glucose from the blood into muscle, liver and fat cells.
Chromium is a necessary component for normal insulin functioning as it improves the action of insulin through its effect on receptors.
Studies with supplemental chromium demonstrated significant positive effects on glucose, insulin, HbA1c and cholesterol levels in type 2 diabetics.
Biotin increases the activity of the enzyme glucokinase, which is the first step in utilisation of glucose by the liver. This results in better blood glucose control.
Furthermore, the combination of biotin and chromium has been proven to significantly improve glycaemic control in diabetic patients.
Remember that the ideal multivitamin and minerals supplement for people with diabetes and high blood sugar has to be designed to meet their specific nutritional needs for optimum health and prevention of illnesses.
Look for essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, D, E, B1, B2, B6, B12, niacinamide, folic acid, biotin, calcium pantothenate, zinc, manganese, copper, selenium, chromium, vanadyl sulphate and alpha lipoic acid.
These will strengthen the immune system to fight illness and diseases, protect against harmful free radical damage to body cells, tissues and organs, energise the body and improve vitality.
Do add on a daily regime of mecobalamin (500mcg three times a day), which studies have proven protects against diabetic nerve damage.
Discovered by Japanese scientists, it helps promote healthy nerves, prevent nerve inflammation and protects against the degeneration process of the nervous system.
Research has shown it is clinically proven to repair and heal damaged peripheral nerves, and even regenerate healthy new nerves in diabetics. In addition, it works synergistically with alpha lipoic acid.