We all know diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent among Americans. Today, 10% of Americans have type 2 diabetes, with 25% of Americans falling into the pre-diabetes range. Those with prediabetes are projected to develop diabetes within five years if no treatment or preventative measures are taken.
Once called “adult-onset” and reserved for higher-class populations, diabetes is now striking adolescents and is heavily seen in middle and lower-class populations. This shift is attributed to the declining nutritional value of the Western diet and its cheap and easy access by all Americans. Diabetes is also connected to being sedentary, getting poor sleep, having chronic stress, and being exposed to an overload of environmental toxins.
TWO APPROACHES TO TREATING DIABETES:
The conventional approach towards diabetes is a hands-off approach until a person actually becomes diabetic. Little is done during the pre-diabetic stage in terms of nutrition education, healthy habit formation, dietary changes, and overall healthy lifestyle habits. Secondly, the traditional dietary guidelines for those with diabetes are outdated and focus too heavily on carbohydrates while downplaying the role of healthy fats. Lastly, diabetes drugs do not address the core reason this disease developed originally. Medications address the downstream outcome of the problem, rather than the upstream source of the problem. Diabetes drugs also come with an array of nasty side effects, least of which is kidney and liver dysfunction.
In contrast, the functional medicine model explores all aspects of a person and addresses the root cause behind disease development. Preventative measures are taken, including nutrition education and healthy habit formation. When approached in this way, diabetes and pre-diabetes can be improved, well-managed, and even reversed.
THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE MODEL FOR DIABETES:
Dietary changes are at the center of diabetes management and treatment. Carbohydrates should be limited each day to about 15% of total calories. The type of carbohydrate also matters. High-fiber, whole-food vegetables should compose most of your carbohydrate intake, supported by whole-fruits, whole-grains, and full-fat dairy (if tolerated). Pairing a carbohydrate with a healthy fat or protein will help decrease glucose spikes and insulin levels after a meal.
Functional medicine recognizes the impact that gluten can have, especially in those with chronic conditions. Gluten increases intestinal permeability, creates inflammation, and thereby can lead to insulin resistance. Avoiding gluten is therefore a common treatment plan for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Getting physical activity does not mean intense training or long hours at the gym. Preventing and managing diabetes can be accomplished with 30 minutes of exercise a day. Aerobic activity, like jogging biking, or swimming, is the most effective type of exercise for lowering blood sugar.
Look for ways to interrupt a sedentary lifestyle each day. Take regular breaks every hour to walk around the office, give office memos or messages in-person rather than paging them, convert your desk into a standing desk, or otherwise look for ways to break up your day by moving.
Most Americans do not get enough sleep, and studies are now showing that getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep each night is actually a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Secondly, those with sleep apnea are at greater risk for diabetes due to the lack of oxygen that occurs while sleeping. For proper sleep hygiene, aim for getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, avoid eating between dinner and bedtime, and limit the blue light emitted from electronic screens 2 hours before going to bed.
Another risk factor for diabetes is chronic stress. Stress hormones, if continuously activated overtime, cause blood sugar imbalances, beta cell dysfunction, and insulin resistance. Ways to reduce stress include meditation, deep breathing, visualizations, and yoga. These practices can decrease blood sugar levels in those with diabetes.
The accumulation of environmental toxins in our bodies contributes to the development and progression of many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes. Some of the main culprits include BPA, phthalates, pesticides, and PCB’s. Reducing your exposure to environmental toxins can be as straight-forward as replacing plastic food storage and water bottles with glass, buying phthalate-free personal care products, focusing on organic produce by avoiding the “Dirty Dozen,” and filtering your tap water.