Whilst there isn't a diabetes cure, diabetes can be treated and controlled. We look at three ways to halt the progression of early onset diabetes.
Diabetes is defined as “a serious life-long health condition that occurs when the body’s ability to respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and elevated levels of blood sugar.
By this definition and with the assertion that it is a lifelong condition, it would suggest that there is no cure, however in the time before diabetes becomes symptomatic, there is a long period where blood sugar levels are raised but full diabetes is not diagnosed. 70% of people with this condition, known as pre-diabetes go on to develop full type 2 diabetes but progressing from pre-diabetes to diabetes isn’t inevitable (1). Halting the progression of diabetes and becoming part of the 30% is a cure of types and moving into the 30% has been shown to be perfectly possible with the right diet and lifestyle choices.
Being active and doing exercise has been shown to increase the insulin sensitivity of cells, reversing some of the effects of diabetes. Moderate, high intensity, high intensity interval training and strength training have all independently been shown to reduce insulin resistance and the levels of blood sugar in pre-diabetic adults (2,3,4,5,6,7). And, you don’t even have to rush around or join a gym, a ten to fifteen minute stroll after main meals has been shown to lower postprandial blood sugar and have a greater effect on blood levels than exercise at other times (8), curbing blood sugar spikes for up to twelve hours (9).
Not everyone who develops full type 2 diabetes is overweight but the majority are. Losing weight does improve risk (10) and the more you lose the better (11). Excess visceral fat, which is fat around the middle of the body, is particularly bad (12,13,14,15). This is because this includes fat around and within body organs. Scientists have identified that losing just 1gram of fat from around or within your pancreas can radically change diabetic symptoms and return insulin secretion to normal levels (16). When looking to lose weight, there maybe particular benefit in concentrating on portion size. Controlling portion size and being careful to limit the amount you eat at any one time lowers blood sugar and insulin levels (17).
This is an area where research is improving all the time and there is increasing evidence that some foods or the nutrients within them actually help the body control blood sugar and insulin levels. The list of foods is extensive, ranging from cinnamon (18) to salmon (19) but there are a number of themes that are easy to follow. The first is to eat more fibre. The latest UK Diet and Nutrition Survey published in 2016 showed that fibre intake is far below recommended levels in all age groups (20). Increasing fibre is one reason why we all should increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Studies in a wide variety of people have shown increasing fibre helps reduce blood glucose and insulin response. Fibre slows the speed with which sugar is absorbed (21) and also supports beneficial gut microflora, which in turn improve carbohydrate metabolism and energy storage, lowering blood sugar (22). Gut microflora are also the reason for the strong links between yoghurt consumption and low diabetes risk. Eating any fermented dairy products, which boost beneficial gut microflora, has been shown to modulate sugar metabolism and improve symptoms (23). The other big group of foods that are beneficial are ones containing high levels of polyphenols. Polyphenols are natural phytonutrients found in plants. Pretty much all foods nicknamed ‘functional’ or ‘super-foods’ contain high levels of polyphenols and diets high in polyphenols have been shown to protect against diabetes (24). Coffee and tea contain polyphenols and both (but particularly coffee) have been linked with lower diabetes risk (25). The green tea polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been shown to reduce blood sugar release from the liver and increase insulin sensitivity and anthocyanins found in all dark blue/purple fruits and vegetables (blueberry, blackcurrant, cherry, plum, aubergine, red cabbage) have been found to transform the effect of a high sugar meal and also lower overall risk (26).
Michael Pollan, author of “In defence of Food: An Eaters Manifesto “ and a Professor at University of California is widely quoted for his assertion that the answer to health is to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. When it comes to diabetes prevention and ‘cure’, he may have a very good point.
Created by industry experts our Diabetes masterclass is an essential viewing for every health and fitness professional and delves into the causes, symptoms and treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
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(3) Ryan et al 2014. Aerobic exercise and weight loss reduce vascular markets of inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity in obese women. J Am Geriatric Soc 62(4):607-614
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