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Naturopathy for Diabetes

Adding a naturopathic doctor to your diabetes care team can help you better manage your health.

with Alice Fong ND

Doctor writes mind body soul on a clear whiteboardNaturopathic treatment can be beneficial for those seeking better management of their diabetes.

If you have diabetes, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is likely at the forefront of your mind. Whether you have type 1 diabetes, and your body doesn’t make insulin, or type 2, where your body doesn’t make enough insulin and doesn’t use what you do make effectively, living with diabetes can sometimes feel like a constant balancing act.

When your body cannot manage your blood sugar levels, it can affect your immune, nervous, and circulatory systems — which is why it’s useful to manage your diabetes with a comprehensive approach. You can use both conventional medicine and naturopathy to develop a plan that helps you to feel better and reclaim control over your health. 

Many people turn to naturopathy to help manage their diabetes. Here are a few things you should know about naturopathic medicine:

  • “Naturopathic medicine aims to address and remove the root cause of a person's disease to promote their natural healing response,” according to Alice Fong ND, CEO & Founder of Amour de Soi Wellness. 
  • Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are educated and trained by accredited medical colleges and they can diagnose and treat medical conditions.
  • Naturopathy aims to restore and establish optimal health. 
  • Many NDs utilize nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and other modalities for curative benefits.
  • Contrary to popular belief, NDs are not anti-medication; they recommend both natural substances and pharmaceutical drugs when necessary. 

In many ways, naturopathy encourages you to be an autonomous player in your own health, which is especially necessary and empowering for those living with diabetes, which can require a lot of self-management. Rather than just seeing a doctor and taking meds, you get to make meaningful daily choices for your own health.

Diabetes and COVID-19

This is all especially key during winter, when you run the risk of coming down with influenza, colds, other infections, or COVID-19. 

A note on diabetes and COVID-19: You are not at higher risk of catching the coronavirus, but you may have worse complications if you do catch it, especially if you have issues controlling your diabetes. This is why it’s more important than ever to get your blood sugar under control, maintain good hygiene, and practice strict social-distancing and safety protocols. 

Naturopathy for diabetes

According to the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Several small, uncontrolled studies have found improvements in self-care behaviors and reductions in clinical risk in persons with type 2 diabetes who received care from licensed naturopathic physicians.” 

The benefits included better:

  • self-monitoring of glucose
  • diet
  • self-efficacy
  • motivation
  • mood

Dr. Fong also recommends seeing a licensed naturopathic doctor to get your micronutrients tested “to uncover any nutrient deficiencies that might be contributing to the progression of the disease, along with any other relevant labs beyond the HgA1c and blood glucose level.” These include:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • amino acids
  • antioxidants 

As Dr. Fong explains, diabetes is a gradual and progressive disease which means reversing or preventing it hinges on adopting some new practices. This doesn't have to be overwhelming, and you don’t have to be perfect overnight – you can implement changes gradually. Even small changes can have a big impact.

“With a healthy lifestyle intervention, perhaps they can avoid adding more medications, and depending on their blood sugar levels, may be able to reduce their dosage of medications,” Dr. Fong says. “There is value in medication, but diabetes medication will not cure diabetes. What can prevent and possibly reverse the progression of the disease (though how much it can be reversed can be dependent on how much it has progressed) are lifestyle changes.”

If you are at-risk for diabetes — meaning you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes — you should know that type 2 diabetes is hugely preventable.

“About 90% of diabetes cases in the U.S. could be avoided with lifestyle interventions,” Dr. Fong says. “Naturopathic medicine is so important in the management of diabetes because it is primarily focused on prevention and health optimization using lifestyle changes.”

Naturopathy Treatment for Diabetes

So what kind of changes can people with prediabetes and diabetes make for preventative or management purposes? A naturopathic doctor can help support you in making the following shifts (and as always, consult with your diabetes care team for additional support and guidance.) 

Find an exercise routine that works for you

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, you’ll want to aim for moderate exercise five times per week for at least 30 minutes a session. You may hear this a lot — but there’s a reason for it. 

When you’re physically active, your cells actually become more sensitive to insulin, which means the insulin works better. Exercise has an immediate lowering effect on your blood sugar. Walking, dancing, strength training, jogging, swimming – all kinds of movement count. If working out feels overwhelming to you, the American Diabetes Association suggests breaking exercise into more doable chunks. Start small. Try to add a few 10-minute workouts to your day at first. Then you can work your way up 50 minutes of exercise three times a week, 30 minutes five times a week or 25 minutes six times a week, they suggest.

And once you start moving, keep it up! You’ll want to avoid going more than 48 hours without a workout, since every sweat session keeps your body in a state of glucose uptake. And as a bonus, movement also reduces stress hormones!

The best advice? Find something that is fun and sustainable for you – something that gets your heart beating. That might be a Zumba workout tutorial on YouTube, a quick HIIT session in your backyard every day, or a group fitness class over Zoom or in-person (where safe).

Make sure you’re also thinking about when you work out. You’ll want to do it when you have energy, but you’ll also need to think about your medication, which can lower blood glucose as much as exercise does. Talk with your doctor about starting a workout routine and appropriately timing your medication and workouts. 

Seek out supportive relationships and your best quality of life

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or looking for new ways to manage your diabetes, take time to assess which relationships and life choices are working for you, and which are not.

Are there people who continually stress you out or make you feel bad? Who are the people that support you best? Look for ways to shift the balance if you’re not feeling well-supported. 

Are you practicing habits that leave you feeling empty, overworked or exhausted? How can you make shifts that reduce or stop your reliance on these? 

Making these types of changes isn’t always easy, but it can help you get a handle on your stress, surround yourself with positive and supportive people, and empower you to make better choices overall. 

Keep a handle on stress levels and find useful ways to manage stress

Everyone experiences stress, but you don’t want to let it overwhelm you. When you are stressed out, your hormones kick up your heart rate and your blood sugar rises. Not to mention, stress can tempt you into not-so-great habits, like drinking too much alcohol or stress-eating. 

It’s helpful to notice when you’re feeling stressed and take measures to prevent stress from becoming overwhelming. A few suggestions:

  • join a support group
  • reach out to kind and understanding family or friends
  • keep an anxiety journal to get your thoughts out and onto paper
  • turn to yoga (more on that below) as a way of clearing your head and relaxing your body
  • practice mindfulness. Simply being aware of your feelings can help transmute them, which is good to know because mental distress is linked to impaired glycemic control. Pick a time each day to sit alone, in quiet, and focus on your feelings and experiences in a nonjudgmental manner. Think of it as making time to acknowledge everything without avoiding it. 

Make the most of your nutrition

Here’s a handy tip for making food choices on the go: Download an app like Glycemic Index & Load Diet Assistant or keep a copy of a glycemic index (GI) guide on you when grocery shopping. The glycemic index can tell you the estimated ranking of carbohydrates in foods — and how much they can affect your blood glucose levels.

Keep a food journal on hand to record how certain foods make you feel. By keeping track of your foods, you can start to notice patterns in your energy levels, fatigue, and blood sugar. In addition to your ND, you can also work with a nutritionist to help you make healthy swaps and develop a meal plan that works for you.

Got a sweet tooth? Dr. Fong suggests sprinkling cinnamon on your foods, as it can help to sweeten the taste and control blood sugar.

You may want to consider adopting a yoga practice, too

Though more research is needed, studies have found that there is some correlation between reduced inflammation and improved immunity with a dedicated yoga practice. As a mind-body therapy, yoga offers unique benefits to those managing a chronic condition. Not to mention, yoga is a mindfulness tool and reduces stress hormones. This may help to keep you healthier when germs are going around. 

For example, you might want to consider trying the ‘legs up the wall’ pose: Simply lay on the floor with your legs up, parallel to the wall. This can help to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels by relieving stress. 

Find a yoga instructor or follow an online tutorial to learn more — the popular Yoga with Adrienne offers a 30-minute yoga for diabetes video to get you started. 

Winter naturopathy for diabetes 

When it comes to embracing naturopathy during the winter months — when you may be more vulnerable — Dr. Fong recommends ensuring you are sticking to your healthiest nutritional choices. It may be tempting to skip your daily workout while stuck indoors during a snow day, but keeping up your healthy habits will help support your immune health and your hormone levels. 

Do One Thing Right Now

In the end, know that you have the power to make life choices that benefit your mind, body, and spirit. Because your health isn’t just about the number on the scale or exercising the most or eating perfectly every day, it’s about creating and sustaining healthy balance in all areas of your life. 

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