November is National Diabetes Month

Learn how naturopathic approaches to diabetes treatment can relieve symptoms, in some cases reverse disease, and help patients manage sugar levels better day to day.

Each year, 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Health Canada reports diabetes is a complex health problem and a national challenge.

The disease causes more deaths each year than breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. Across the U.S., 29.1 million people have diabetes. 

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic disease in Canada, with close to 2.4 million Canadians living with diagnosed diabetes, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This month is National Diabetes Month, a campaign dedicated to raise awareness about the disease and the tens of millions of people affected by it.

Diabetes is variable and complex, so there are many different approaches that work in tandem to treat and manage the disease, including naturopathic medicine.

Naturopathic medicine plays an important role in diabetes care.

A holistic view of patient care is paramount to naturopathic medicine.

In designing a treatment plan for diabetic patients, naturopathic doctors put the focus on the whole patient by recommending behavioral changes such as diet and exercise often working in conjunction with conventional endocrinologists and diabetes specialists to co-mange care.

 “One of the major reasons naturopathic doctors can be a great asset to diabetes care is because we take the time needed to actually connect with the patient, educate the patient, and help them to take a greater control over their own health,” says Dr. Turshá Hamilton, a naturopathic clinician at the National University of Health Sciences Whole Health Center.

“Many people don’t actually understand what is within their control when it comes to their health. There are so many conflicting stories about what it takes to be healthy, which foods are healthy, and what supplements are to be taken, that no one knows what to do,” she adds.

In addition, there is more to diabetes management than test results.

“Diabetes care is not just about regulating glycated hemoglobin levels. Without doubt, glycated hemoglobin is an appropriate biomarker of diabetes care, but diabetes care is complex as there are various co-morbidities and diabetes itself is a risk factor for various conditions,” says Dr. Ellen Wong, an associate professor and clinic supervisor at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

“To appropriately manage diabetes, the following should be discussed: dietary and exercise recommendations, appropriate use of pharmaceutical and/or natural health products, frequency of self-monitored blood glucose checks, appropriate frequency of laboratory evaluations, and physical examinations,” she adds.

Naturopathic care “can be seen as essential first-tier treatment for diabetes type 2 patients,” according to Dr. John Furlong of the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.

john-furlong-with-patient“Our methods address the causes of most cases of this lifestyle-related condition and are effective at reducing the severity of the metabolic disturbances,” he says.

He recognizes that patients must be willing to make the recommended diet and lifestyle changes in order to achieve results.

However, “when physicians project a can-do approach and provide the materials to support these changes, success is attainable by most patients,” he says. “This approach is much less expensive both in the short term and in prevention of the typical long-term sequelae of diabetes.”

Dr. Brendan Smith at the Diabetes Center at Bastyr University adds, “The power lies mostly in the physician-patient relationship and pragmatic approaches that employ the ability of patients to take charge of their health.”

Naturopathic doctors each have their own unique approaches to managing diabetes.

NDs weigh in with their favorite methods.

Dr. Turshá Hamilton sees nutrition as one of the most important factors to address.

“The area that I tend to focus on most is nutrition (both diet and supplementation). I do this for a couple different reasons. First, you have to feed a malnourished, underfed body. It’s been said that diabetes is a disease of “starvation in a sea of plenty.” There is lots of sugar present, but there is not a lot of it going to feed the cells. There is also usually a very low level of micronutrients in the diet, so the cells are not truly getting what they need. A major part of healing the body will be feeding it what it needs.”

Dr. John Furlong takes a multi-factorial approach.

“If one is looking for most effective means to lower blood sugar, the botanical preparations are quite effective most of the time. The greater good I think is accomplished with less medications of all sort and more lifestyle change by the patients as this address multiple risk factors (neurologic, cardiovascular) at the same time as lowering blood sugar values.”

Dr. Ellen Wong zeroes in on diet and exercise.

“The most effective naturopathic approach to diabetes management, is without a doubt, diet and exercise. The low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet or Mediterranean diet has strong research evidence for positive health outcomes in both diabetes and cardiovascular health. It is also able to reduce the need for diabetic medication and reduces rates of overall mortality. Any physical activity is good – a combination of aerobic and some resistance has been shown to be very effective for diabetes management. Evidence for natural health products and botanicals is varied with literature supporting cinnamon, gymnema, magnesium and berberine in specific cases.”

Dr. Brendan Smith aims to empower his patients.

“My favorite approach to diabetes lies in education and empowerment of the patient. Often patients don’t fully understand the nature of diabetes and the ways in which they have power over their blood glucose. It is a collaborative process and non-judgmental so that at the end of the day, no matter the outcome the patient is supported in the process. The most effective approach to diabetes is to make the process specific to the patient.”

In working with diabetic patients, these doctors have seen great progress thanks to holistic naturopathic approaches to treatment.

Here are a few success stories.

Dr. Turshá Hamilton treated a middle-aged woman with a new diagnosis, who was eager to get control of her blood sugar to avoid the more serious outcomes of the disease.

Dr. Hamilton counseled the patient on tracking her diet, testing her blood sugar, and incorporating physical activity. After diet and lifestyle modifications and a few supplements, the patient’s weight began to decrease, her energy increased, and her blood sugar stayed within normal limits.

Dr. Brendan Smith had a middle-aged male patient who was looking for adjunctive diabetes care. His condition had worsened since his initial diagnosis, and he was looking for an alternative to way to control his blood glucose.

Dr. Smith’s team educated the patient about how lifestyle behaviors impact his diabetes. The patient’s family was brought into the discussion, and achievable goals were set. Over six months, the patient was able to significantly reduce his insulin and blood pressure medications.

This month and every month, naturopathic doctors work with diabetic patients to manage their condition in a holistic way in order to help them lead healthier and happier lives.

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