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One of my patients, aged 58, had an initial hemoglobin A1c of 7.2%. She was taking oral hypoglycemic agents, statins, and proton pump inhibitors—the basic treatment for every diabetes diagnosis. The patient was 28 lbs overweight and worked long hours. She didn’t exercise, mostly ate a processed food diet, and was sleep deprived. The patient had a family history of diabetes, and ultimately her lifestyle expressed her genetic tendencies.

A: Fasting plasma glucose and weight change 2 years after randomization either to gastric banding or to intensive medical therapy for weight loss and glucose control. Data plotted with permission from Dixon et al. (13). B: Early changes in fasting plasma glucose level following pancreatoduodenal bypass surgery. A decrease into the normal range was seen within 7 days. Reproduced with permission from Taylor (98).
This class of medicines includes rosiglitazone and pioglitazone. These medicines help your body respond better to insulin. Rosiglitazone and pioglitazone can be used alone or in combination with other diabetes medicines. Side effects may include weight gain, fluid retention, and an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. People taking rosiglitazone and pioglitazone also need periodic liver tests.
A number of companies are attempting to be the first to produce an artificial pancreas system. An artificial pancreas is likely to be worn outside of the body and would continuously measure blood glucose and deliver an appropriate amount of insulin. It would not necessarily be a cure, but would represent a way of treating type 1 diabetes without injections and without the continual dosing decisions.
Scientists are cautious, and research is continuing, but evidence is growing that the diet can indeed remove the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. The question for researchers, who are now working on identifying the type of diet that can keep diabetes at bay after reversal, is once we've beaten the condition, how do we improve our lifestyle so it doesn't return? Watch this space.
If I could only prescribe one supplement for a diabetes patient, I would prescribe R-alpha-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid has numerous benefits to the diabetic patient. It is a water- and fat-soluble antioxidant and has been shown to protect patients with fatty liver from liver disease progression. It can help reduce insulin resistance and has been shown to protect people with diabetes from developing complications in their nerves, eyes, and kidneys. R-ALA can prevent glycosylation of proteins, which reduces the A1C level. It is safe, although very rarely it can cause stomach upset. Alpha-lipoic acid is listed either as ALA or R-ALA. When listed as ALA, this means it contains two forms—the S isomer form and the R isomer form, in a 50:50 ratio. The key is to find a product that says it contains “R-ALA” instead of just “ALA.” A good daily working dose of R-ALA is 300 to 1,200 mg a day, which is the equivalent of 600 to 2,400 mg a day of regular ALA, if you buy a regular ALA listed product.
A couple of studies have found that cinnamon improves blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. In the first study, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were divided into six groups. Three groups took 1, 3 or 6 g of cinnamon a day and the remaining three groups consumed 1, 3 or 6 g of placebo capsules. After 40 days, all three doses of cinnamon significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
It was the same endorsement the first Diabetes Surgery Summit, also organized by Cummings in 2007, had made, but the landscape had changed since then. In addition to more accumulated research, this time, their stance was backed by over 50 international professional organizations, including the American Diabetes Association. And while other medical societies and organizations had long backed surgery as an option for diabetes, the DSS-II guidelines are the first meant to guide clinical practice.
The researchers concluded that the herb might help treat or prevent type 2 diabetes. They noted that S. oblonga appears to act in the same way as today’s oral diabetes drugs (alpha-glucoside inhibitors) in interfering with the absorption of carbohydrates. S. oblonga is not free of side effects, however. It can cause the same gas and cramping as the prescription drugs, particularly in higher doses.
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is necessary for the body’s overall health. Erratic blood sugar levels can affect the body’s ability to function normally and even lead to complications if left unchecked. Some herbs and spices found in nature do a tremendous job of naturally lowering blood sugar levels, making them a boon for diabetics and pre-diabetics. What’s more, being nature’s multi-taskers, herbs and spices also produce overall health benefits beyond just helping balance blood sugar.

A wide scatter of absolute levels of pancreas triacylglycerol has been reported, with a tendency for higher levels in people with diabetes (57). This large population study showed overlap between diabetic and weight-matched control groups. These findings were also observed in a more recent smaller study that used a more precise method (21). Why would one person have normal β-cell function with a pancreas fat level of, for example, 8%, whereas another has type 2 diabetes with a pancreas fat level of 5%? There must be varying degrees of liposusceptibility of the metabolic organs, and this has been demonstrated in relation to ethnic differences (72). If the fat is simply not available to the body, then the susceptibility of the pancreas will not be tested, whereas if the individual acquires excess fat stores, then β-cell failure may or may not develop depending on degree of liposusceptibility. In any group of people with type 2 diabetes, simple inspection reveals that diabetes develops in some with a body mass index (BMI) in the normal or overweight range, whereas others have a very high BMI. The pathophysiologic changes in insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity are not different in obese and normal weight people (73), and the upswing in population rates of type 2 diabetes relates to a right shift in the whole BMI distribution. Hence, the person with a BMI of 24 and type 2 diabetes would in a previous era have had a BMI of 21 and no diabetes. It is clear that individual susceptibility factors determine the onset of the condition, and both genetic and epigenetic factors may contribute. Given that diabetes cannot occur without loss of acute insulin response to food, it can be postulated that this failure of acute insulin secretion could relate to both accumulation of fat and susceptibility to the adverse effect of excess fat in the pancreas.


“These findings are very exciting. They could revolutionize the way type 2 diabetes is treated. This builds on the work into the underlying cause of the condition, so that we can target management effectively,” lead researcher Roy Taylor, from the Newcastle University, told The Guardian. Interesting, indeed, as many of the current treatments for type 2 diabetes involve medication and even surgery to restrict stomach capacity.

Whole-body insulin resistance is the earliest predictor of type 2 diabetes onset, and this mainly reflects muscle insulin resistance (26). However, careful separation of the contributions of muscle and liver have shown that early improvement in control of fasting plasma glucose level is associated only with improvement in liver insulin sensitivity (20,21). It is clear that the resumption of normal or near-normal diurnal blood glucose control does not require improvement in muscle insulin sensitivity. Although this finding may at first appear surprising, it is supported by a wide range of earlier observations. Mice totally lacking in skeletal muscle insulin receptors do not develop diabetes (27). Humans who have the PPP1R3A genetic variant of muscle glycogen synthase cannot store glycogen in muscle after meals but are not necessarily hyperglycemic (28). Many normoglycemic individuals maintain normal blood glucose levels with a degree of muscle insulin resistance identical to those with type 2 diabetes (29).
When evaluating patients with a chronic illness such as diabetes, TCM practitioners take a detailed, multi-system case history and supplement this information with observations that give information about the state of the patient’s health. These observations include the shape, color, and coating of the tongue; the color and expression of the face; the odor of the breath and body; and the strength, rhythm, and quality of the pulse. Many practitioners will palpate along meridians to detect points of tenderness that may indicate a blockage in the flow of Qi at that point.6
But a prescription doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It may be that, through weight loss and physical activity, you can reduce your risk of diabetes, or prevent it from occurring. "The only evidence-based treatment that can 'cure' diabetes is weight-loss surgery,” says Gupta, “but weight loss in overweight or obese type 2 diabetes patients certainly helps with decreasing drugs.”
However, the observation that normalization of glucose in type 2 diabetes occurred within days after bariatric surgery, before substantial weight loss (15), led to the widespread belief that surgery itself brought about specific changes mediated through incretin hormone secretion (16,17). This reasoning overlooked the major change that follows bariatric surgery: an acute, profound decrease in calorie intake. Typically, those undergoing bariatric surgery have a mean body weight of ∼150 kg (15) and would therefore require a daily calorie intake of ∼13.4 MJ/day (3,200 kcal/day) for weight maintenance (18). This intake decreases precipitously at the time of surgery. The sudden reversal of traffic into fat stores brings about a profound change in intracellular concentration of fat metabolites. It is known that under hypocaloric conditions, fat is mobilized first from the liver and other ectopic sites rather than from visceral or subcutaneous fat stores (19). This process has been studied in detail during more moderate calorie restriction in type 2 diabetes over 8 weeks (20). Fasting plasma glucose was shown to be improved because of an 81% decrease in liver fat content and normalization of hepatic insulin sensitivity with no change in the insulin resistance of muscle.
Effect of an 8-week very-low-calorie diet in type 2 diabetes on arginine-induced maximal insulin secretion (A), first phase insulin response to a 2.8 mmol/L increase in plasma glucose (B), and pancreas triacylglycerol (TG) content (C). For comparison, data for a matched nondiabetic control group are shown as ○. Replotted with permission from Lim et al. (21).
The bionic pancreas is another project from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital in a joint effort to create a bionic pancreas, a type of artificial pancreas which not only includes insulin but also glucagon to raise blood sugar. The system is intended to use an algorithm that checks every 5 minutes to calculate the amount of insulin or glucagon needed. The project has recently formed into a public benefit corporation called Beta Bionics. This newer structure allows it to serve not just shareholders, but also the public good. Beta Bionics also became the first American company to raise over a $1 million from small investors under new public investing rules!
Although there are several different types of ginseng, most of the promising studies on ginseng and diabetes have used North American ginseng ​(Panax quinquefolius). Those studies have shown that North American ginseng may improve blood sugar control and glycosylated hemoglobin (a form of hemoglobin in the blood used to monitor blood glucose levels over time) levels.​​​
Curcumin. The compound curcumin, which is found in the spice tumeric, has been shown to both boost blood sugar control and help prevent the disease. In a nine-month study of 240 adults with pre-diabetes, those who took curcumin capsules (which are available over-the-counter) completely avoided developing diabetes while a sixth of patients in the placebo group did.

Milk thistle is an herb that has been used since ancient times for many different ailments and is considered a tonic for the liver. The most studied extract from milk thistle is called silymarin, which is a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is these properties that may make milk thistle a great herb for people with diabetes.
Why do people develop prediabetes? Prediabetes develops through a combination of factors that are still being investigated. For sure, lifestyle factors (food, exercise, stress, sleep) play a role, but family history and genetics certainly do as well. It is easy to assume that prediabetes is the result of being overweight, but the relationship is not that simple. While obesity is one underlying cause of insulin resistance, many overweight individuals may never develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and a minority of people with prediabetes have never been overweight. To make matters worse, it can be increasingly difficult to make healthy choices in today’s toxic food environment that steers all of us to make the wrong food choices, and there are many factors that can contribute to weight gain in addition to diet.
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I bring this up because sleep apnea increases a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Also, sleep-disordered breathing is also related to proper nutrition throughout life. And perhaps most importantly, the first line of defense in catching sleep-disordered breathing in patients early, are dentists. This is another area where dentists must get involved if we want to tackle the issue of pervasive type 2 diabetes with any success.
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