In part 1, we covered different diet changes and specific foods that are useful in preventing and treating diabetes. This second column discusses the importance of exercise, stress management, and useful supplements.
Exercise is a mainstay to lowering our blood sugar, whether we are treating or preventing diabetes. The more often we exercise, the more we prevent nearly every chronic disease. In diabetes, our muscles help to burn extra sugar AND help insulin work more effectively. Even gentle walking for 20 minutes a few times a week makes a big difference. The best exercise is something you enjoy: whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, playing ball with your grandchildren, weeding in your vegetable garden, it doesn’t matter. It’s exercise if you do it for 20 minutes or more, get your heart rate up, and have a light sweat. Just enjoy it! We are much more likely to continue doing something we enjoy than dragging ourselves through something that feels like torture. You may find that the feel-good endorphins released with exercise leave you with more energy and a better mood all through the day when you exercise regularly.
Stress is a big factor in any illness. Longer periods of stress cause the release of a stress hormone called cortisol, which increases the levels of sugar in our body. The stress hormone adrenaline also keeps insulin from working well. Unfortunately, stress is almost an accepted part of our modern lives! In addition, many people feel out of touch or out of control with their body in the face of a new diagnosis of diabetes or diabetes that is poorly controlled. In times as these, the key is to be mindful of what is real and what is just a worry or fear. Recognize that you are in control of your health, and that there are many resources for you to lean on. Social connections—our friends, family, churches, and community—are essential to helping relieve stress by sharing with others and seeing that we are never alone, even if it feels like it sometimes. Prayer, meditation, or journaling helps to quiet our minds. Activities like yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong help us re-connect to our bodies and stop living in our minds full of stressed-out thoughts. All of the above have been shown in research studies to help improve blood sugar control in diabetes, too!
After focusing on the foundations of a good diet, exercise, and a regular relaxation practice, some might be interested in additional options. There are many supplements that can help either with lowering your blood sugar or protecting from damage to your blood vessels and organs. There always seems to be a new “miracle” compound on the news or internet; while many of these may be promising, those listed here are supported by research studies and decades of use.
• Chromium picolinate is a naturally-occurring mineral that helps our bodies be more sensitive to insulin. It can be a good supplement for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or even those with constant carb cravings looking to lose weight. Dose is 200-400 mcg/day.
• Alpha-lipoic acid is both an anti-oxidant and blood-sugar lowering compound that is found naturally in foods like broccoli and spinach, but taken in supplement form should be at higher doses such as 600-1800mg/ day.
• Fish oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory that many by now are familiar with. It helps protect our body from the inflammatory damage of high blood sugar. EPA and DHA are the most useful of the omega-3 fatty acids. The right dose for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes is EPA + DHA =1000-2000 mg/ day (look at the back of the bottle where these are listed).
• Magnesium plays an important role in the action of insulin. Dose of 200mg/ day to prevent diabetes, 400 up to 2000 mg/day if you have diabetes. Remember magnesium at higher doses is a laxative, so increase your dose slowly! High levels of magnesium are also found in nuts, so you could also eat a handful of unsalted nuts as a daily healthy snack rather than take another pill!
• Zinc has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics. Dose is 20mg/ day.
• B Vitamins, especially B6, B12, folic acid, and biotin, all have benefit in reducing blood sugar levels and protecting the nervous system. You could take each individually, but finding a good-quality Vitamin B 100 complex would be the best value to take daily.
• Low Vitamin D levels are associated with insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Vitamin D is made in our skin when it comes in contact with the sun, but many of us are not in the sun enough to have high enough levels. Most of us have lower levels in the winter. Consider taking a supplement at 300 to 2000 IU/ day, depending on the season and your usual sun exposure.
Contact your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have about diabetes.