Perhaps you had a routine physical exam and blood testing with your Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor and discovered that your blood sugar was uncomfortably high. Maybe you’re concerned about your family history of diabetes or heart disease and already recognize that prevention is key. It’s a common scenario in my office, perhaps because an estimated 22% of Canadians have pre-diabetes. For the most part, type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle illness, but not always in the way we think it is.
Type 2 diabetes (aka adult-onset diabetes) involves a hormonal imbalance called insulin resistance. This is where the cells in the body that are designed to remove sugar from the blood stream, become inefficient. They stop listening to (or become insensitive to) instructions from the hormone insulin. The resultant high amount of sugar in the blood stream binds to proteins and directly damages blood vessels, including those in our eyes, brain, heart, and feet. The long-term effects of this process are implicated in 1 of every 10 deaths in Canadian adults. At the pre-diabetes stage however, reversing this hormone imbalance is very possible. There are many ways to do this, but I’d like to focus on just one essential concept that is often overlooked.
Insulin is an “anabolic” hormone, which means that its job is to build things, such as muscle. Our bodies are designed to build and heal during times of rest and relaxation, such as during sleep. Typical North American lifestyles however, are riddled with chronic low grade stress from constant multi-tasking, interruptions from cell phones and other devices, and the life-work-balance-turned-juggling act. We spend our days in “fight-or-flight” mode, also known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Insulin is a product of the “rest-and-digest” mode, or parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Your body can’t listen to insulin efficiently when it’s hypervigilant from perceived low-level threats. The key to reversing insulin insensitivity lies in spending more time in the PNS system. Here are some simple tips to get you there:
- Eating must be a relaxing event. Sit down to eat your food in a quiet environment and chew your food thoroughly. Enjoy it. Take your time. Your body will listen to insulin more effectively under these conditions.
- Breathe! Deep, focused breathing throughout your day is a shockingly simple way to trigger the PNS. Many of us breathe shallowly when under chronic stress without even knowing it. Engaging in a regular yoga or meditation practice can be very helpful.
- When you’ve simplified your life and reduced demands on your time as much as possible, and you still feel stress, it’s time to reframe your stress. Explore the theme of control, letting go, and surrender, as it applies to your daily life. Work with a counsellor if you’re having difficulty.
The best news about implementing diabetes prevention strategies, is that they cooperate to reduce your risk of other chronic degenerative illnesses, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression. With a naturopathic or integrative medical approach, a little truly goes a long way! And if these strategies aren’t enough, we have tools to help your body reach a more effective balance, such as with botanicals, acupuncture, targeted clinical nutrition and exercise plans. Preventive medicine is our specialty.