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Opening the Book on Diabetes

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One of the most serious diseases we face today is diabetes. Some public health experts have called it a "21st-century epidemic" and others classify it as a "disease of modern living." Prior to the 20th century, diabetes was relatively rare, but an overabundance of sugar and other unhealthy additives in much of the food we eat and the beverages we drink has made it a major cause for concern today.

It is estimated that 17 million Americans suffer from either type-1 (juvenile) or type-2 (adult) diabetes. Another 16 million are in various stages of prediabetes, meaning that they are insulin resistant or glucose intolerant. And yet another 7 million are estimated to have hypoglycemia, a low-blood-sugar condition many experts consider to be a prediabetic disorder. Complications from diabetes can include heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney failure, blindness and, in extreme cases, amputations. Until fairly recently, the disease was thought to be almost solely hereditary, but we now know there is more to diabetes than just "bad genes."

The new book, How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes with Natural Medicine, discusses the subject. What is unusual about it is that the co-authors represent both ends of the professional medical spectrum. Michael Murray is a naturopathic doctor and Michael Lyon is a medical doctor. It isn't often that members of these two divisions within the medical profession are in agreement on how to treat a serious illness, but this is one of those rare cases in which they are.

The authors start by emphasizing prevention -- avoiding or drastically limiting intake of foods or beverages that have a high glycemic index. These are substances that break down quickly in the body and very often produce an overabundance of sugar and unhealthy fats. This can lead to an increase in abdominal fat, which can lead to an increase in insulin resistance, which can then lead to type-2 diabetes in adults.

The authors take issue with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food guide pyramid, which they say is weighted toward dairy products, beef and breads. The authors' version of the pyramid stresses more servings of vegetables, fewer servings of fruits and a heavy emphasis on whole grains, legumes, good oils, high-quality protein and low-fat dairy products. They also advocate drinking eight to 12 glasses of water a day and completely avoiding high-glycemic starchy or sugary foods, hydrogenated oils and deep-fried foods. Calcium supplements may be substituted for low-fat dairy products, according to the authors.

Murray and Lyon also make some excellent points about the effects of stress on blood sugar. They present ample evidence that prolonged, uncontrolled stress may elevate blood sugar and may increase the likelihood of insulin resistance. They also advocate better lifestyle management: watching carefully what you eat and getting plenty of exercise and rest.

If you have diabetes or suspect you might, be sure to see your doctor for treatment options.

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