There's little doubt that the right diet can improve and even prevent diabetes. This is especially true of type 2 diabetes, which is basically insulin resistance, but type 1 diabetes, also known as “juvenile diabetes”, can also be improved with the right diet. Below, and in no particular order, I have listed the whole foods that contain the nutrients most noted for their ability to alleviate and even prevent diabetes.
Diabetes Fighting FoodsChromium-Rich Foods
- green beans
- Romaine lettuce
- black pepper
- Brussels sprouts
- rice bran
- Sunlight (yes, I know it's not food)
How chromium fights diabetes
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that enhances insulin function and influences the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats. A study published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition states that “Within the last 5 years chromium (Cr) has been shown to play a role in glucose intolerance, Type 2 diabetes mellitus (Type 2 DM), and gestational diabetes. … The requirement for Cr is related to the degree of glucose intolerance: 200 μg/day of supplemental Cr is adequate to improve glucose variables of those who are mildly glucose intolerant. However, people with more overt impairments in glucose tolerance and diabetes usually require more than 200 μg/day. Daily intake of 8 μg of Cr per kg body weight was also more effective than 4 μg/kg in women with gestational diabetes. The mechanism of action of Cr involves increased insulin binding, increased insulin receptor number, and increased insulin receptor phosphorylation. In summary, supplemental Cr has been shown to have beneficial effects without any documented side effects on people with varying degrees of glucose intolerance ranging from mild glucose intolerance to overt Type 2 DM.”1
Other studies have backed up these findings, particularly as it regards type 2 diabetes. A study published in the journal Diabetes is a good example. That study tested the hypothesis that elevated intake of chromium could control type 2 diabetes. These were the results: “Individuals being treated for type 2 diabetes (180 men and women) were divided randomly into three groups and supplemented with: 1) placebo, 2) 1.92 μmol (100 μg) Cr as chromium picolinate two times per day, or 3) 9.6 μmol (500 μg) Cr two times per day. Subjects continued to take their normal medications and were instructed not to change their normal eating and living habits. HbA1c [glycated hemoglobin] values improved significantly after 2 months in the group receiving 19.2 pmol (1,000 pg) Cr per day and was lower in both chromium groups after 4 months (placebo, 8.5 ± 0.2%; 3.85 pmol Cr, 7.5 ± 0.2%; 19.2 pmol Cr, 6.6 ± 0.1%). Fasting glucose was lower in the 19.2-μmol group after 2 and 4 months (4-month values: placebo, 8.8 ± 0.3 mmol/1; 19.2 μmol Cr, 7.1 ± 0.2 mmol/1). Two-hour glucose values were also significantly lower for the subjects consuming 19.2 μmol supplemental Cr after both 2 and 4 months (4-month values: placebo, 12.3 ± 0.4 mmol/1; 19.2 μmol Cr, 10.5 ± 0.2 mmol/1). Fasting and 2-h insulin values decreased significantly in both groups receiving supplemental chromium after 2 and 4 months.”2
How alpha-lipoic acid fights diabetes
Apha-lipoic acid is the synthetic form of the lipoic acid that is naturally occurring and produced in the body. It is “vital to cellular energy production, and helps to neutralize the damage caused by free radicals.”3 This is important to know, because free radicals, as they oxidize, become highly reactive and damaging to the cell, “distorting its vital components and reducing its metabolic efficiency.”3 And while the body can naturally manufacture enough alpha-lipoic acid for metabolic functions, eating more foods rich in this organosulfur compound and/or supplementing permits optimal levels to circulate in a free state. “As a dietary supplement, alpha-lipoic acid benefits appear to include helping increase insulin sensitivity, and may be especially useful in addressing metabolic syndrome.”3
Also, according to an article published in Nutrition Reviews, it's not just alpha-lipoic acid's antioxidant effect that helps diabetics. “Alpha-lipoic acid (LA) … has long been known as an essential cofactor for mitochondrial bioenergetic enzymes. Pharmacologically, LA improves glycemic control and polyneuropathies associated with diabetes mellitus... [The biosynthesis of LA] decreases as people age and is reduced in people with compromised health, thus suggesting a possible therapeutic role for LA in such cases.”4 Alpha-lipoic acid is considered to be especially effective for “glycemic control, improved insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, and neuropathy in diabetic patients,”4 both types 1 and 2. And it's been found that alpha-lipoic acid supplements are most beneficial for those suffering with diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is form of nerve damage that affects diabetics. More often than not, it damages the nerves in the legs and feet of sufferers, and it can sometimes lead to amputations below the knee. So, if you're a diabetic, you'll definitely want to get more alpha-lipoic acid in your diet.
How vitamin D fights diabetes
Studies dating back to the late 20th century have proven that vitamin D can not just help those suffering from insulin resistance, but prevent diabetes, type 1 and 2. For example, a study published in the UK medical journal The Lancet showed that type 1 diabetes could be prevented with supplemental vitamin D, starting in infancy. Here are their findings: “Of the [10,366] children included in analyses, 81 were diagnosed with diabetes during the study. Vitamin D supplementation was associated with a decreased frequency of type 1 diabetes when adjusted for neonatal, anthropometric, and social characteristics (rate ratio [RR] for regular vsno supplementation 0·12, 95% Cl 0·03–0·51, and irregular vs no supplementation 0·16, 0·04–0·74. Children who regularly took the recommended dose of vitamin D (2000 IU daily) had a RR of 0·22 (0·05–0·89) compared with those who regularly received less than the recommended amount.”5 Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that vitamin D supplementation did indeed reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes, and further stated that “Ensuring adequate vitamin D supplementation for infants could help to reverse the increasing trend in the incidence of type 1 diabetes.”5
Numerous recent studies have shown that vitamin D levels are connected to one's sensitivity and blood glucose levels. For example, “researchers at the University of California found that low vitamin D levels resulted in insulin resistance and improper function of the pancreatic cells that help produce insulin.”6 So, how does vitamin D do all of this?
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, vitamin D is not a vitamin at all, it's a “steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body.”7 And, of course, steroids can affect our bodies on a scale that vitamins cannot. “One Indian study found that vitamin D and calcium supplementation in combination with exercise can prevent pre-diabetes from progressing into full-blown diabetes. For every unit increase in vitamin D levels, the risk of progression to diabetes in people with pre-diabetes went down by 8 percent.”7 Multiple studies have shown that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, even if they are lean.
How cinnamon fights diabetes
The spice cinnamon has long been used as a folk remedy for treating type 2 diabetes. And, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes, it is an effective remedy. Researchers tracked the A1C (average blood glucose level over a 2 to 3 month period) in people with type 2 diabetes. “Researchers split the participants into three groups: a low-dose group that took 120 milligrams of cinnamon a day before breakfast, a high-dose group that took 360 milligrams, and a group that took a placebo. All participants were also given a sulfonylurea (gliclazide), a common first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes. The study lasted three months. … Participants taking a high dose of cinnamon lowered their A1C from 8.9 percent to 8.0 percent, while those taking a low dose dropped from 8.9 to 8.2 percent. The placebo group's A1C was unchanged.”8 The change differential between the low dose group and the high dose group may seem very small, especially since the high dose is 3x the low dosage, but the study only lasted three months.
Nevertheless, some mainstream doctors, like Dr. David Williams, are recommending cinnamon to their patients. “I’ve been recommending the routine use of cinnamon for years now. Recent studies have added so much support to this idea that you could now call cinnamon 'the poor man’s insulin.' And with the full-blown epidemic of diabetes that we’ll continue to see for years to come, the world will need a form of insulin for the poor.”6 However, there is some conflict on the research front. While many studies say that cinnamon can help those with type 2 diabetes, a few others contradict those findings.
The foods I've listed above are not the only whole food sources of LA and chromium, but they are considered the richest. And foods like broccoli, tomatoes potatoes and nuts are vegan diet staples that contain good amounts of these nutrients. The vitamin D content of mushrooms can be increased by simply placing them on a window sill (for at least an hour) and allowing them to absorb more vitamin D from the sun, just as your skin does. Speaking of the sun, you cannot beat the free vitamin D the sun provides, but to get the amount needed by those who are genetically predisposed to diabetes, you will probably have to supplement. And there's nothing wrong with that. The same goes for the cinnamon. Since you will need to consume more than you would if you were just using it as a seasoning, it may be more cost effective to purchase cinnamon in capsule form. But, even if you're opposed to using nutritional supplements, there's a lot of credible (albeit mostly anecdotal) evidence that a vegan diet alone can reverse type 2 diabetes and improve type 1. Dr. Gabriel Cousens' documentary 'Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days' demonstrated this years ago. If I recall correctly, at least one of the study's participants (a type 2 diabetic) was no longer diabetic by the end of the documented study, and the other participants saw impressive results as well. If you're interested, you can watch it for free online. I believe it's still available on YouTube.
1 Anderson, RA, PhD. “Chromium, Glucose Intolerance and Diabetes”, Journal of American College of Nutrition, June 8, 2013. Web. December 20, 2015
2 Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, et al. “Elevated Intakes of Supplemental Chromium Improve Glucose and Insulin Variables in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes”. Diabetes | American Diabetes Association, November 1997. Web. December 21, 2015
3 Weil, Andrew, MD and Becker, Brian, MD. “Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)”. Dr. Weil, September 7, 2012. Web. December 21, 2015
4 Singh U and Jialal I. “Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and diabetes”. Nutrition Reviews, November 2008. Web. December 21, 2015
5 Hypponen E, PhD, Laara E, Msc, Reunanen A, MD, et al. “Intake of Vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study”. The Lancet, November 2001. Web. December 22, 2015
6 Williams, David, MD. “Six Nutrients to Help Control Blood Sugar”. Dr. David Williams, February 6, 2014. Web. December 22, 2015
7 Mercola, Joseph, MD. “Vitamin D Can Save You From Diabetes and Dementia”. Mercola, March 9, 2015. Web. December 22, 2015
8 “Cinnamon May Help Improve Blood Glucose Levels in Type 3 Diabetes”. Diabetes | American Diabetes Association, September 13, 2013. Web. December 22, 2015
“Chromium in the diet”. European Food Information Council, December 2008. Web. December 20, 2015
Amerman, Don. “Food Sources of Alpha-Lipoic Acid”. SFGate, n.d. Web. December 22, 2015
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Diabetic neuropathy”. Mayo Clinic, February 24, 2015. Web. December 22, 2015
Guest blog by Holistic writer Andrea Lewis.