I recently carried out a survey among physicians working with diabetic patients: I wanted to know how comprehensive their treatments were. To my surprise, all of them focused treatment on strict blood glucose control using either only drug therapy or a combination of drugs and dietary changes. Unfortunately, this simplified approach not only fails to address the damage diabetes causes, but it can actually hasten the progression of diabetes. Keep reading to find out what vitamins are crucial for optimal diabetes management and why people with diabetes need them.
Before I get started, please keep in mind that I am not implying you should run to the nearest health store and buy all the following vitamins. I usually advise my patients to try and get all the nutrients their body needs from REAL foods while ensuring their digestive tract is working optimally.
Why do diabetic patients need more vitamins?
The first reason is that diabetes is a nutritional wasting disease – when blood glucose (sugar) levels are high, they act as a diuretic. This causes excessive urination which washes out loads of nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and zinc. Simply drinking more water won’t help replace the water-soluble nutrients that were lost.
Another reason is glycation, a process in which glucose molecules react with proteins in the body – this damages the protein turning them into nonfunctional structures called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Unfortunately, although glycation is a key-feature of diabetes-related complications such as blindness, heart attack and nerve damage, it does not figure in conventional treatment for diabetes. You’ve probably heard of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), a well-known AGE among diabetics. Well, HbA1c is formed when glucose molecules in the blood attach to hemoglobin – measuring your HbA1c will give you a picture of the extent to which your hemoglobin is exposed to glucose (that is, how controlled your blood glucose levels are.)
The third reason is that diabetes causes a lot of oxidative stress – elevated blood glucose levels and glycation produce free radicals that further damage proteins in your body while reducing levels of nitric oxide. Since the arteries are kept relaxed and wide open by nitric oxide, high levels of free radicals adversely affect arteries throughout the body. This can pave the way for numerous complications and is the reason why individuals suffering from diabetes face higher risks of atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries), heart disease and heart attacks.
So, why won’t strict blood glucose control solve this issue?
Although maintaining optimal blood glucose levels will help reduce urinary losses of micronutrients and decrease the stress induced by diabetes, doing so does not eliminate these issues. You see, individuals suffering from diabetes often face regular periods of high blood glucose levels even if their overall blood glucose control is good. Unfortunately, most conventional physicians miss that point.
In a nutshell, how can vitamins protect against diabetic complications?
A diet naturally rich in vitamins and minerals can help reduce glycation and oxidative stress while toning down inflammation. In fact, a large human trial showed that for each 1 percent reduction in HbA1c, there was:
- A 37 percent reduction in microvascular complications which affect small blood vessels in the eyes, nerves and kidneys.
- A 21 percent decrease in risk for any complication of diabetes.
- A 21 percent decline in deaths linked to diabetes.
- A 14 percent reduction in heart attack.
The truth about Type 2 diabetes (and why you need to rethink your treatment).
Most of the patients who work with me to manage their diabetes are told that they need to boost their insulin levels. They are even prescribed drugs such as sulfonylureas to boost their insulin levels in the early stages of the disease. The (flawed) assumption is that the extra insulin will help drive the glucose in the blood into the cells – this would then lower blood glucose levels. However, the issue is that, in the early stages of diabetes, insulin levels are already high since the problem is not with insulin production.
Rather, there is an issue with insulin utilization. You see, our cell membranes have insulin receptors – in people with type 2 diabetes, these receptors are less responsive to the insulin. As such, less glucose is absorbed from the bloodstream and glucose levels slowly rise.
Our body responds to this increase in blood glucose by prompting the pancreas (an organ) to produce more insulin in order to regulate glucose levels. While this can help successfully drive blood glucose into cells and reduce blood glucose levels, this short-term fix also speeds up the progression of the disease. That’s because, eventually, the delicate insulin receptors become less sensitive, leading to insulin resistance, a condition which forces the pancreas to produce even more insulin to normalize blood glucose levels. As the disease progresses, the pancreas ‘burn out’ and can no longer produce enough insulin, causing insulin levels to plummet below normal and allowing blood glucose to increase even more and inflict greater damage.
If you want to know more about what’s really causing diabetes and what to do about it, check out the following speech by Dr. Sarah Hallberg.[youtube id=”da1vvigy5tQ”]
Vitamins that can help protect against diabetes’ devastating effects.
Besides being involved in the utilization of protein, fats and carbohydrates, biotin also improves insulin sensitivity which, as discussed earlier, dwindles as diabetes progresses, leading to increased risks for diabetic complications. Biotin also increases the activity of glucokinase, an enzyme in charge of glucose utilization by the liver – diabetics often have low levels of glucokinase. Moreover, biotin can help reduce pain induced by diabetic nerve damage.
You may also like: