Learning Blood Sugar Control and Preventing Insulin Resistance By Claudia Guy, ND
Learning Blood Sugar Control and Preventing Insulin Resistance
By Claudia Guy, ND
Though a healthy diet is key to preventing many diseases and improving general quality of life, simply learning to control your blood sugar levels can ward off many chronic diseases. Among those diseases are Metabolic Syndrome, Fatty Liver, Gut Dysbiosis, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Cardiovascular Disease, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Retinopathy, Neuropathy, Nephropathy and other conditions relating to inflammation and free radicals. Impaired glucose tolerance or high blood levels of glucose (sugar) can destroy nerve tissue, muscle tissue, and blood vessels, and reduce immune function.
Physiology of Blood Sugar Control
When sugar or refined carbohydrates are consumed uninhibited by fiber, protein or fats, they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This rush of glucose in the blood gives us the sugar rush that we commonly associate with sugary foods. However, glucose must be immediately stored as glycogen or fat. The signal for glucose storage is triggered by the release of the hormone insulin. If insulin is not released, or not enough is released, the sugars (glucose and fructose) can bind irreversibly to body tissues (proteins and nerves) destroying them in a process called glycation or glycosylation.
Glycosylation produces Advanced Glycation End-products, or AGEs. AGEs result in early aging and destruction of cells. Glycation is the process that leads to the common complications of poor blood sugar control: damaged kidneys, nerves, vision, and blood vessels. AGEs are also created when foods are cooked at high temperatures. Glucose as well as fructose has also been shown to glycate proteins. The Standard American Diet (SAD) provides the number one source of fructose for Americans. Though fructose is a fruit sugar, unfortunately the average American is not over-consuming fructose from fruit rather from high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient in many beverages, breads, baked goods, breakfast cereals, condiments and salad dressings. These same food groups are also a source of refined carbohydrates. Your Hemoglobin A1C measures glycation of red blood cells. This test can give a good indication of blood sugar control over the span of 3 months. Normal HgA1C is 4.5-6% and less than 7% if you have Diabetes.
The glycemic index was introduced in 1981 as a way to classify carbohydrate foods. It measures how quickly blood sugar rises after consuming a carbohydrate food. Glucose, the simplest form of sugar, has a glycemic index of 100, to which every other food is compared. For example, instant white rice has a glycemic index of 91, and apple has a glycemic index of 36. In effect, instant white rice will spike your blood glucose faster and higher than an apple. The fiber in the apple slows down the absorption of carbohydrate. Thus, in this case, choosing the apple will better control your blood sugar levels and prevent insulin resistance.
Physiology of Insulin Resistance
Insulin is released from the pancreas in response to the consumption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It communicates to cells to open their receptors to utilize or store these nutrients. When an abundance of refined carbs is consumed, this causes the insulin to spike. The goal is to consume foods that will not cause insulin spikes. This constant burst of insulin can stress the pancreas and render cells less responsive to insulin. When there is insulin resistance or insensitivity, the cells are no longer responding to normal levels of insulin. Cells then require higher levels of insulin in order to respond to insulin itself. When there is insulin resistance, cells may not get enough nutrients, and the glucose in the blood stream can begin glycosylating proteins. This process of insulin resistance can burden the pancreas until it no longer can produce enough insulin. Reversing insulin resistance can be accomplished by dietary changes and with the help of additional herbs and nutrients.
Banaba is the Tagolog translation for Lagerstromia.13, 14, 16 This herb is found in Southeast Asia and has been part of the Philippine culture for many years for digestive problems, kidney inflammation, and especially to fight against high blood sugar.15 Traditionally, it has been consumed as a tea, but now is widely available in supplement form. As a dietary supplement, Banaba leaf is found in a standardized extract and easy to dose. Taking too much Banaba leaf can lower your blood sugar too much causing hypoglycemia.
The active constituent in Banaba leaf is Corosolic acid. Corosolic acid has been studied extensively and shown to function similarly to insulin.15 This has caught the attention of medical experts who are searching for ways to restore normal blood sugar levels. As previously mentioned, the role of insulin is to communicate to cells that there is glucose in the blood stream ready for cellular uptake. This is very promising for the plethora of individuals with insulin resistance.13 Corosolic acid aids in transporting glucose into the cells, this alleviates pancreatic stress commonly associated with insulin resistance.13, 15, 16
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a vitamin-like organosulfur compound, and is often referred to as “nature’s perfect antioxidant” 17 and the “Universal Antioxidant”. It is both water- and fat-soluble, so it is absorbed very easily into cells. It has sulfur atoms that lends to its antioxidant potential, protecting the body from free radicals. This concept is why N-acetyl-cysteine and glutathione have superb antioxidant function. ALA is a powerful antioxidant capable of both balancing blood sugar and protecting the body from the damages of elevated blood sugar.5 It prevents damage in the body and restores essential antioxidant vitamin E and C. Furthermore, it protects the nervous system and kidneys from glycation. Elevated blood sugar can lead to neuropathy—numbness and tingling—even before the onset of frank Type 2 Diabetes.5 Insulin resistance often appears before Type 2 Diabetes, causing glycation of tissues. ALA is improves blood flow to nerves and can also help improve their function. ALA has been approved in Germany for the use of diabetic neuropathy.
Besides protecting from neurological damage, ALA also improves insulin sensitivity.5 In one study, it was able to preserve the function of pancreatic beta cells and improve glucose control in the presence of fructose.7 Another study showed that ALA can increase leptin levels, a hormone that signals the brain to stop eating, resulting in lower glucose levels.9 Thus, when leptin levels are increased, as in the case of this ALA study, there is better appetite control and the decrease risk of obesity.9
Grape Seed Extract
The seeds of grapes naturally contain potent antioxidants such as flavonoids, omega 6, and polyphenols. These polyphenols are called Oligomeric ProanthoCyanidins or OPCs, and are responsible for the potent antioxidant potential of grape seed extract. Grape seed, as a powerful systemic antioxidant, is more potent than vitamin C and is very safe. There is a growing wealth of research investigating the used of grape seed extract that protects the liver, gut, brain, kidneys, heart and pancreas; the same organs that are stressed in insulin resistance. Grape seed is an excellent protector of the vasculature system, protecting it from free radicals, cholesterol and sugar in the blood.
When it comes to blood sugar control, grape seed extract is a must. It has been shown to decrease both blood glucose levels and insulin resistance.1, 2 Grape seed extract was compared to a diabetic drugs called Acarbose.4 Acarbose is designed to block the starch-digesting enzyme, assisting diabetics in absorbing fewer calories from starch. This results in less starch/sugar being absorbed and better blood sugar control. The grape seed worked similarly to the Acarbose, but it was shown to bind the starch digesting enzymes better than Acarbose. Due to grape seed’s strong ability to control blood sugar, it has been shown to help reverse Hypertension and Fatty Liver, two conditions commonly associated with blood sugar dysregulation.
This simple mineral has profound implications in over 300 functions in the human body.11 The average adult has 25 grams of magnesium, of which half of it is stored in bones, 1 percent is in the blood stream and the rest in other organs that require it for biochemical processes. Magnesium is used for relaxing muscles, bone health, fatty acid formation, blood clotting, making energy and making new cells. Magnesium is also important in lowering blood pressure. However, a magnesium deficiency is found associated with diabetes, or impaired glucose control.12 Magnesium is most deficient in diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy and diabetes-related heart disease.10 It is common for Type 2 diabetics to spill glucose in their urine. When this occurs, magnesium often spills as well.11 The American Diabetes Association has acknowledged the association between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance. Supplementing with magnesium not only replete levels but can also improve insulin production.9, 11, 12 Adding vitamins B6 and E help magnesium get into cells.
Most people with insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes can achieve better blood sugar control with diet, lifestyle and supplementation. Ensure to eat foods with a low glycemic index—whole grains, beans, leafy greens, vegetables, protein, healthy fats and whole fruit—and be cautious with sugary foods and beverages. Smoking and moderate to heavy drinking and being sedentary can accelerate chronic diseases associated with impaired glucose tolerance. Because diabetes and insulin resistance can lead to morbidity, it is imperative to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
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