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Diabetes: What is and what you need to know?

Also indexed as: Blood Sugar (Diabetes), Diabetes, Type 2, High Blood Sugar
Type 2 Diabetes: Main Image

About This Condition

Diabetes mellitus is an inability to metabolize carbohydrates resulting from inadequate insulin production or utilization. Other forms of diabetes (such as diabetes insipidus) are not included in this discussion.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus, type 1 and type 2.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes, which has also been called childhood-onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make the insulin needed to process glucose. Natural therapies cannot cure type 1 diabetes, but they may help by making the body more receptive to insulin supplied by injection. It is particularly critical for people with type 1 diabetes to work carefully with the doctor prescribing insulin before contemplating the use of any herbs, supplements, or dietary changes mentioned in this article. Any change that makes the body more receptive to insulin could require critical changes in insulin dosage that must be determined by the treating physician.

Type 2 diabetes, which has also been called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes may also affect children and may also require treatment with insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas often makes enough insulin, but the body has trouble using it. Type 2 diabetes frequently responds well to natural therapies.

People with diabetes cannot properly process glucose, a sugar the body uses for energy. As a result, glucose stays in the blood, causing blood glucose to rise. At the same time, however, the cells of the body can be starved for glucose. People with diabetes are at high risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, cataracts, retinopathy, stroke, poor wound healing, infections, and damage to the kidneys and nerves. In addition, those with diabetes have a higher mortality rate if they also have high homocysteine levels.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Everyone with diabetes aged 6 months and older should get a seasonal flu shot. Close household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of people with diabetes should also get the vaccines. People can receive both flu shots at the same time.

People with diabetes should get the flu “shot" not the nasal spray type of vaccine. The flu shot is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The vaccine used in the shot is made from killed virus; you cannot catch the flu from the flu vaccine.

Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Excess abdominal weight does not stop insulin formation, but it does make the body less sensitive to insulin. Excess weight can even make healthy people prediabetic, though weight loss can reverse this problem. In most studies, type 2 diabetes has improved with weight loss.

Exercise helps decrease body fat and improve insulin sensitivity. People who exercise are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who do not. However, exercise can induce low blood sugar in diabetics taking blood sugar–lowering medications, or even occasionally increased blood sugar.( Therefore, people with diabetes should never begin an intensive exercise program without consulting a healthcare professional.

Moderate alcohol drinking in healthy people improves glucose tolerance. However, alcohol has been reported to worsen glucose tolerance in the elderly and in people with diabetes in some studies. People with diabetes who drink have also been reported to have a high risk for eye and nerve damage.

Questions remain about where the line should be drawn regarding alcohol intake. For healthy people, light drinking will not increase the risk of diabetes, and may even reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes; however, heavy drinking does increase the risk of developing diabetes and should be avoided. People with diabetes should limit alcohol intake to two drinks per day. Total avoidance of alcohol in people with diabetes who are not suffering from alcoholism, liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis), gastritis, ulcers, and other conditions made worse by alcohol might actually be counterproductive. In one report, older people with type 2 diabetes who drank daily, but moderately, had a dramatically lower incidence of deaths from heart disease compared with nondrinkers. This outcome is not surprising since moderate alcohol intake is associated with protection from heart disease in most other reports. This finding may be of particular importance because heart disease is the leading killer of people with diabetes. In another study, nondrinkers had a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes than did moderate drinkers.

People with diabetes who smoke are at higher risk for kidney damage, heart disease, and other diabetes-linked problems. Smokers are also more likely to develop diabetes, so it's important for diabetic smokers to quit.

Although most healthcare professionals agree on the necessity of self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) by people with type 1 diabetes, disagreement exists within the medical community regarding the efficacy and necessity of SMBG by people with type 2 diabetes. A controlled clinical trial found that home glucose monitoring strips did not affect the management of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, a review of available literature concluded that the efficacy of SMBG in people with type 2 diabetes is questionable and should be tested in a rigorous high-quality trial. Advocates of SMBG, such as the ADA, have observed that SMBG by people with diabetes has revolutionized management of the disease, enabling them to achieve and maintain specific goals. These observations are well-supported in the medical literature. Detractors point out that indiscriminate use of self-monitoring is of questionable value and adds enormously to healthcare costs. The ADA acknowledges that accuracy of SMBG is instrument- and technique-dependent. Errors in technique and inadequate use of control procedures have been shown to lead to inaccurate test results. Nevertheless, it is likely that self-monitoring of blood glucose, if used properly, can have a positive effect by increasing a person's involvement in overall diabetes care. Pharmacists and healthcare practitioners can teach people with diabetes certain skills that will enhance their ability to properly self-manage blood glucose.

Holistic Options

Acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of diabetes, or complications associated with diabetes. Preliminary trials have suggested that acupuncture can lower blood sugar and improve insulin production in people with type 2 diabetes, but trials on long-term effects have not been concluded. In a preliminary trial, 77% of people suffering from diabetic neuropathy experienced significant reduction in pain following up to six acupuncture treatments over a ten-week period. Many were also able to reduce pain medications, but no long-term change in blood-sugar control was observed. Bladder control problems, a complication of long-term diabetes, responded to acupuncture treatment with a significant reduction in symptoms in both controlled and uncontrolled trials.



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