Sunday FUNday: A Functional Medicine Approach to Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common problems in the United States today. The Standard American Diet (SAD) continues to promote blood sugar disorders and will for decades to come. Some have predicted that the diabetic explosion will bankrupt the national healthcare system. Diabetes is on the rise and is the leading cause of blindness, amputations, kidney failure, and neuropathy in the United States. Over 26 million Americans are affected by diabetes, at an annual cost of over $218 billion per year. Diabetes is a growing problem in industrialized countries, primarily due to a lack of lifestyle education and physical activity, as well as the consumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient, processed foods.

Defining Diabetes

Diabetes disrupts all aspects of human physiology.  It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, cognitive decline, and virtually every other disease. There are different categories of blood sugar handling issues: reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, below 60) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, above 100).  Contrary to popular belief diabetes is not a blood sugar issue, it is 100% of the time an insulin issue. High blood sugar is a symptom of insulin resistance or a lack of insulin production.

Diabetes is classified as either type 1 or type 2, and both result in high blood sugar.  In type 1 diabetes a person has lost the ability to make insulin because their pancreas is being destroyed by either their own immune system or a virus.  A type 2 diabetic eventually loses the ability to make insulin due to poor lifestyle choices, specifically diet.

Developing Diabetes

Before a person becomes a diabetic, they go through a stage called insulin resistance. This means that their cells require more insulin than usual to force that sugar into the cells. This problem is promoted by lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, overeating, high sugar and high starch snacks and meals, and a lack of fiber. People in the insulin resistance stage usually complain of getting tired after meals, cravings for sweets, and trouble losing weight.  When the insulin receptor becomes over-saturated (due to inflammation or insulin resistance) sugar cannot get into the cells.  This excess sugar is converted into circulating fats called triglycerides.  This process demands a lot of energy, resulting in fatigue after a meal.   High triglycerides on a blood test are one of the first signs of insulin resistance and seen before diabetes is full blown.

Insulin resistance ALWAYS comes before diabetes is officially diagnosed.  A person may be severely insulin resistant and still present with normal blood sugars.  This high demand of insulin results in pancreatic burn-out, ultimately resulting in insulin dependence (medication). High circulating insulin does not only affect blood sugar; remember, insulin is at the root of virtually all chronic disease and therefore affects various other systems in the body.  This is why diabetes is so much more than blood sugars.

How Hormones Affect Diabetes

A hormone is an important chemical messenger that is made in one part of the body and communicates with another part of the body.  At the root of virtually every illness are two hormones, insulin and cortisol.  Insulin is a hormone made by beta cells in the pancreas.   In insulin’s case, its job is to drive sugar into virtually every cell in your body to be converted into energy.  All foods, such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates will eventually be converted into glucose (sugar) so that the body can use it as a fuel.  Once a person become insulin resistant they cannot lower blood sugar effectively, thus leading to diabetes.

Cortisol is a hormone that is made by your adrenal glands (stress glands). One of it’s main roles is to increase blood sugar in response to any stress.  It does this by releasing a stored sugar (glycogen) from the liver and muscle tissue.  Cortisol will also reduce the sensitivity of the insulin receptors on cells.  This forces the pancreas to make more insulin to lower blood sugar; and a viscous cycle begins, leading to diabetes.

Why is Insulin So Important?

1.  Insulin tells your liver to make more cholesterol. Cholesterol is the precursor to many of your hormones, including cortisol. Your body makes more cholesterol in response to the demands placed on it. This is a highly intelligent response to your environment and lifestyle, not an error.  Your body never makes mistakes.

2.  Insulin raises your blood pressure by increasing sodium retention. Many diabetics also have high blood pressure as a result of insulin issues.

3.  Insulin keeps your liver from being able to detoxify properly. Your liver is like your body’s oil filter. Your liver takes the trash and sludge out of your blood, but it can’t do as good of a job when insulin and blood sugar are constantly elevated.

4.  Insulin promotes inflammation, the very thing that causes insulin resistance. Inflammation promotes joint pain, cardiovascular disease, fluid retention, and weight gain to name a few.  These diseases are often seen in diabetes patients.

5. High insulin levels in women cause them to make more testosterone. Symptoms include; polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, hair thinning, and unwanted facial hair.  Insulin can also affect the distribution of weight causing weight gain in the mid section.

6.  Men end up with higher levels of estrogen when they have higher levels of insulin. This can contribute to breast enlargement and prostate issues with men, along with other things like erectile dysfunction and loss of motivation.

7.  High levels of insulin are also directly related to higher risk for colon and breast cancer.  Insulin promotes cell division and therefore also accelerates the aging process and cancer cell division.  Cancer is more common in those with diabetes.

8.  High levels of insulin promote weight-gain because it is a fat storage hormone. When insulin can no longer drive sugar into cells to make energy, its job is then to store that sugar as fat for use at a later time.  Guess what? That time never comes!

Are you currently experiencing insulin resistant or have been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes and wish to help your body use insulin naturally? Call our office today at (304)263-4927 to schedule an appointment. Dr Terry Chambers is a Board certified chiropractor and acupuncturist licensed in WV.


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