A diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes can come as a shock, but it is possible to reclaim your life, get healthy, and keep the condition in check. If you are among the 29 million American adults with diabetes or the 86 million who have pre-diabetes, here’s how you can stop this condition in its track.1
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. The body produces hardly any insulin to help use up glucose.
- Type 2 diabetes is caused by insufficient insulin or the body’s resistance to use insulin.
If you are prediabetic, making lifestyle modifications can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58%. Remember, this will need to be practiced as a permanent lifestyle change to reverse diabetes and maintain results. There is no miracle short-term cure.
If you are diabetic, these tips – strict diet control, weight loss, and exercise – can help you reach a stage where your blood sugar is in control, with minimal fluctuations, and you are not dependent on medication. This is as close to a perceived “reversal” as you will get. However, if you stop managing your diet or give up exercise, the problems will likely come right back again.
1. Take A Holistic Long-Term Approach
Ayurveda recommends a holistic approach to diabetes, combining a modified diet with physical activity. In fact, according to this ancient form, an inactive lifestyle is partly to blame for the increased incidence of this condition. And mainstream research backs this up.
As one study found, test subjects with type 2 diabetes who underwent an intensive lifestyle-based weight loss intervention (ILI) had higher chances of seeing partial remission of their diabetes compared to those who just got diabetes education and support thrice a year. There were weekly group and individual counseling sessions organized for those in the ILI group in the initial 6 months, and then 3 sessions monthly for the next 6 months in that year. Refreshers were held in the years that followed. These individuals were asked to make the following changes:2
- Cut their calorie intake to between 1200 and 1800 kcal a day.
- Reduce total fat intake in general as well as saturated fat intake in particular.
- Increase physical activity. Aim at 175 minutes of activity per week.
Aside from these pointers, here’s a 360-degree approach to help you prevent or reverse diabetes.
2. Find A Suitable Diet For Better Glucose Control
Diet is key to better glycemic control in diabetics and prediabetics. Not just to avoid fluctuations in blood sugar levels, but also so you can lose weight or keep lipid levels in check – after all, cardiac issues commonly plague diabetics. Eat right with any of these dietary approaches.
Follow A Kapha-Balancing Ayurvedic Diet
Your body is considered healthy in Ayurveda when the three doshas are in balance. Ayurveda sees diabetes or madhumeha as an excess kapha dosha problem. By consuming a kapha-pacifying diet, you should be able to gain control of your condition.3 Researchers in one study found that combining Ayurvedic ahara and vihara (diet and lifestyle modification) as per Ayurvedic principles improved not just the major symptoms of diabetes but also the biochemical parameters of subjects.4
- Have light, warming, and dry foods and avoid foods that are oily, heavy, and cold as these increase kapha. For instance, soups and meals made from green gram, horse gram, fenugreek, barley, bitter gourd, pointed gourd, and cooked vegetables were given to those in the study mentioned earlier.
- To pacify kapha, you will need to consume more bitter and astringent or even pungent foods like bitter melon and fenugreek seeds. Bitter melon, for instance, is known to help reduce fasting blood glucose.5
- Avoid eating too much yogurt or dairy products, especially at night.
- Have hot ginger tea to stimulate sluggish digestion.
- Avoid heavy fruit like figs and bananas and instead have pears, apples, pomegranates, or cranberries.
- Limit intake of salty foods but spice up meals with pepper, ginger, cayenne, or mustard seeds.
- Make lighter foods like beans your main protein sources.
- Cut down consumption of rice and wheat and switch to millet, buckwheat, barley, rye, or corn.
- Take turmeric in your food, a spice widely used in Indian cooking, to lower blood sugar.
Go With ADA Guidelines And Have Diabetic Superfoods
You could try and adhere to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet guidelines for better glycemic control. The distilled-down form of the ADA is as follows:7
- Consume between 15 and 20% of your daily calories from protein.
- Have less than 7% saturated fat.
- Get 60 to 70% of your calorie intake every day from carbohydrates as well as monounsaturated fats.
- Have no more than 200 mg of cholesterol every day.
The ADA suggests consuming diabetes superfoods to help you on your way. This includes:8
- Beans: A fiber-rich protein source minus the bad saturated fat animal proteins are notorious for
- Citrus fruit: For vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber
- Green leafy vegetables: Nutrient-rich and low in carbs
- Berries: Antioxidant-, vitamin-, and fiber-rich
- Sweet potatoes: Swap regular potatoes that have higher glycemic index with these vitamin-rich ones
- Fatty fish: For your omega 3 dose the natural way; just remember to poach, steam, or lightly saute them – frying is a no-no
- Whole grains: Lower glycemic index and healthier than processed alternatives, and with more nutrients than refined grains
- Nuts and seeds: For healthy snacking and for more of that inflammation-fighting omega 3 fatty acid conten
Try A Low-Fat Vegan Diet
A low-fat vegan diet has also been found to be beneficial for those with diabetes. According to research, subjects switching to a low-fat vegan diet saw results in just a few months. During the 22-week study period, they also saw their lipid control and glycemic control improve. This is important because cardiovascular problems are a leading cause of mortality among diabetics. Here are some simple rules for a low-fat vegan diet:9
- Consume a plant-based diet, so cut out any form of meat, poultry, fish, and even eggs and dairy.
- Get your protein from non-dairy and plant-based sources like beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like those in white flour or processed foods – they can raise triglyceride levels.
- Consume high-fiber and low glycemic index foods like fresh vegetables, legumes, beans, and fruit. These can improve lipid control.
Consider The Low-Calorie Approach – But No Fasting Or Extreme Diets
Have you been hearing about the benefits of fasting for reversing diabetes? There has been a buzz about results from one animal study – when mice were put on a fasting diet, their bodies were able to regenerate beta cells in the pancreas that actually make insulin.
This intermittent fasting involved a low-calorie, low-carb, low-protein but high-fat diet on day 1 at 50% of normal intake. For the next 3 days, calorie intake was reduced to 10% of the normal intake. Then, normal eating resumed for 10 days before the fasting was done again. Insulin resistance was lowered and production of insulin restored in the animals.
While this could be a significant finding for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there is a caveat. As experts in a National Health Service report caution, this research is a long way from being applicable to humans.10
Sudden fasting or starvation type diets can wreak havoc on a diabetic’s system – you could even find yourself in hospital from complications if it isn’t done right.
There have been very small studies in which subjects saw their diabetes reversed by strict diet. In one extreme diet study, test subjects with type 2 diabetes on this fasting diet of just 600 kcal/day for 8 weeks saw insulin sensitivity in the liver and beta cell function improve, both of which are usually impaired in people with diabetes.11
But much wider studies under strict controls are needed to ensure there are no serious risks or side effects from such an approach. Consuming such low levels of food can be fraught with risks for diabetics unless their blood sugar levels are already in check.
So what exactly is the best way forward? Instead of extreme diets, try cutting down dietary energy intake or, simply put, the number of calories you consume every day. Be sure to first consult your doctor to check if it is safe for you to do this. This diet will need to be designed with the help of a qualified nutritionist in consultation with your doctor.
3. Use Natural Remedies Like Cinnamon And ACV
Some common larder ingredients and herbs can help you keep your diabetes under control. You could begin by just adding them to your food on a daily basis. Avoid taking supplements unless you consult your doctor first.
Cinnamon is said to help improve insulin sensitivity, making it a useful natural way to get that blood sugar in line.12 Trials have found that consuming cinnamon powder to the tune of between 1 and 6 gm, or 3 gm on average, helped bring down fasting glucose levels. In another study, test subjects with type 2 diabetes were given 1, 3, or 6 gm of cassia cinnamon powder for 40 days. Their fasting serum glucose went down by 18 to 29%.13
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) could help with insulin sensitivity even if you’re not diagnosed a diabetic just yet. In one study, patients with diabetes as well as insulin-sensitive test subjects were given 20 gm of ACV in 40 gm of water with a teaspoon of saccharine as a drink before mealtime. Researchers found that the vinegar improved postprandial insulin sensitivity.14
A more exotic ingredient available in specialty stores, fenugreek seeds can lower insulin resistance and help with glycemic control in those with mild forms of type 2 diabetes. Tests found that consuming the seed extract for as little as 2 months on a daily basis alongside regular treatment helped improve glycemic control and reduced insulin resistance.15
Mango Leaves Extract
Though the mango is a sweet fruit and to be had with caution by diabetics, mango leaf helps lower blood glucose by producing more insulin.
The mango tree, native to South Asia and India, has medicinal applications in ayurveda. Animal studies have found that the ethanolic extract of the leaves has a significant hypoglycemic effect. The extract is said to help stimulate β-cells to boost insulin release. The aqueous extract of the leaves too has shown hypoglycemic activity in diabetic rats, an effect attributed to the intestinal reduction of glucose absorption after administering the remedy.
4. Try Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathic remedies like syzygium (jambol seeds) can help improve your overall health and keep your body’s insulin requirements at steady levels and blood glucose levels in control. This makes it easier to manage type 2 diabetes and should lower complications.17 Some homeo remedies are also very useful for treating specific problems diabetics have to deal with.
- Nerve damage can cause numbness or even ulcers on the feet and hands of diabetics. Conium or hemlock can help numbness that is accompanied by weakness/dizziness and trouble walking
- Plumbum (lead) can help numbness accompanied by hypersensitivity and when pain is worse at night.
- If you have infected ulcers, calendula (marigold) can be applied topically as a lotion or taken internally.
- You can also improve renal function with homeopathic remedies like Natrum muriaticum (salt), sulfur, or lycopodium (club moss) if you don’t have any severe kidney damage.
- Use Apis mellifica for help with normal fluid retention and to stimulate healthy urine flow.18
5. Make Time For Exercise And Manage Weight
As the Centers for Disease Control point out, if you are overweight and prediabetic, you are likely to develop type 2 diabetes over time. As many as 15 to 30% of prediabetics who don’t get in moderate physical activity or manage weight develop diabetes in as little as 5 years.19 Whether you are overweight or not, there is no substitute for exercise to reverse diabetes.
The minimum level you should aim at is about 150 minutes a week. That’s just 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week – as much as you’d do watching a half hour of your favorite sitcom while on a treadmill. Doesn’t sound that hard now, does it?
Start small with as little as 5 or 10 minutes of exercise and work your way up to more. If weight loss is a goal, you may need to spend 1 hour exercising. Just be sure to monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after workouts. Ensure you have small carb snacks at hand if sugar levels dip.
It’s ideal if you can work out every day, but whatever you do, don’t skip exercise more than 2 days in a row.
Some aerobic exercises that may be good to try are brisk walking, dancing, swimming, low impact aerobics, or even hiking. Combine this with strength training to keep those bones and muscles from wasting away. Do this on the two days you’re not doing aerobic exercise. You could fit weights at the gym or procure a set of resistance bands or learn exercises that use your body weight like lunges, planks, or pushups.20
6. Practice Yoga For Improved Insulin Sensitivity And Glucose Tolerance
Improve your glucose tolerance with the regular practice of yoga. Yoga may also favorably influence your risk profile for cardiovascular problems and other diabetes-related complications.
Researchers have found that it improves insulin sensitivity, pulmonary functions, and lipid profile, besides helping blood pressure and countering oxidative stress. These effects make it a great remedy for those with type 2 diabetes.21
So if you’re looking at different forms of exercise to help you with your physical activity targets for the week, why not try yoga? Throw in some meditation as well to cope with the fatigue and stress of grappling with the condition on a daily basis.
7. Move Around And Get More Active
Besides your scheduled exercise time, build in opportunities to walk and exercise through your day. Keeping activity levels up in general help you burn through calories, which go a long way in weight loss and blood sugar control. Some places you could start are:22
- Get off the bus one stop ahead and walk the rest of the way; or park your car a little further away to work in some extra steps.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift when you can.
- Get up from your desk or wherever you’re sitting and walk a bit and stretch every half hour or so.23
- Stand and walk during phone calls or conference calls.
- Stand and move about while watching TV or during commercial breaks.
- Play with your kids!
8. Stop Smoking To Reduce Risk Of Diabetes-Linked Complications
If you’re a smoker, stop right away. Smoking is a trigger for type 2 diabetes, increasing risk by as much as 30 to 40 percent. If you’re already diabetic, it can raise the risk of complications like kidney or heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, and circulation issues.