Blood Sugar: It's in your control
I know youíve heard me say this countless times, but I canít stress enough the importance of healthy blood sugar levels. Iíve expounded on the facts and figures as well as the detriments and costs not only to our health but ďourĒ (collective) pocketbook. So Iím not going to bore you with these details, not because they arenít important but because we have become so numb to what they mean. Kind of like my wife giving me a list of household chores during the Super Bowl; the information is important but it doesnít trump my immediate attention. So Iím going to try, again, to get yours.
First a pep talk. If you are one of the millions of Americans who has some form of pre-diabetes or even full-blown diabetes, itís in your immediate power to make it better. Now, Iím not proclaiming miraculous cures, but simply that even small changes can improve your condition. But remember, change requires action, and action requires the desire to make a differenceóin your health. So letís start with some key treatment goals to keep you moving in the right direction.
First you want to reduce the load of sugar in your blood stream. In the past Iíve used the analogy of maintaining a fairly constant level of blood sugar to that of liquid in a bucket. I use this analogy because I want my patients to remember that not only are you consuming sugar, but youíre burning it as energy. While blood sugar absolutely changes throughout the day, large continual fluctuations can be problematic. This can happen by regularly skipping meals only to have large caloric intakes to satisfy your mounting hunger. These oscillations between starvation and gluttony drive your liver to store the calories you eat as fat, thus making you, well, fat. The solution is to eat smaller regular meals, picking high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods that will both satiate your appetite and reduce the rate that you absorb sugar. I think healthy goal is to consume 30-35 grams of fiber daily. By eating more fiber, you naturally consume less sugar and fat.
Secondly, you need to get and stay moving. We are leading more sedentary lives. I for one canít believe when I actually have to get off the couch to change the TV channel because the batteries in my remote mysteriously vanish, and my three young children have no recollection why. Anyway, muscles work by burning glucose for energy. If you demand more from your body, it will respond. As the duration of exercise increases, the body naturally shifts to its auxiliary fuel supply, stored sugar in the liver. Now youíre burning the fuel that matters. I recommend 30 minutes of daily continuous activity. While there are other well-founded recommendations, this one seems doable for most people.
The suggestions thus far (or to come) are not meant to supersede those made by your healthcare provider. However, I find too often these simple suggestions have lost their power amid the slew of medicines and natural supplements that are often prescribed. But hereís the kicker: these medicines, natural or synthetic, work better if you follow the suggestions laid out thus far.
Medical interventions are simply ways of biochemically altering blood sugar. Some do it by slowing the absorption of sugar in the gut, some by improving the way the pancreas makes insulin, and some by making the cells more able to utilize the sugar available. While there are a handful of drugs that can do this nicely and have supportive data to that effect, in the spirit of this column, Iím going to suggest a couple natural ďmedicinesĒ that can also be helpful.
These include herbs like fenugreek, gymnema, bitter melon, and cinnamon. Also, vitamins and minerals such as alpha lipoic acid, CoQ10, chromium and vanadium can be implemented in an integrative treatment plan. I suggest talking to a provider knowledgeable about how these products work. They will be able to answer questions about dosage, adverse reactions, and drug interactions, which are important in taking this direction.
So, are you ready to take action and make some changes? Your health is depending on it.
Dr. Jeff Roush is a licensed naturopathic physician practicing at Natural Medicine Plus in Helena (www.naturalmedicineplus.com). He is available for general questions at the Real Food Market from 3-6 pm on Wednesdays.
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