Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose) — an important source of fuel for your body. With type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells — or does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels.
Today more people are being diagnosed with diabetes than ever due to many factors including the rise in childhood obesity. Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance which along with inflammation is the main driver of most cardiometabolic disease. Three of the top six chronic diseases among Americans are classified as cardiometabolic disease: Cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Stroke.
Functional medicine provides evidence for many of the factors that contribute to why this happens, besides genetics. It also offers a better roadmap to identify these risk factors and clearer solutions to address them once they have been identified. Genetics and environmental factors, such as being overweight and inactive are clear contributors, but there are other risk factors that lead to chronic inflammation and promote insulin resistance. These include:
- Physical inactivity
- Diets high in sugar
- Excessive alcohol
- Poor sleep
- Environmental toxins
- Unhealthy gut flora
- Leaky gut barrier
Conventional medicine teaches us that there is no pharmaceutical cure for type 2 diabetes. However, lifestyle medicine (functional medicine) recognizes that losing weight, eating healthy and exercising can help manage the disease and often reverse it, especially if other factors that may be contributing are addressed. If lifestyle changes are not enough to manage your blood sugar, you may benefit from integrative therapies that have been studied and shown to help control the disease. When these measures fail, diabetic medications or insulin may be needed, but there is evidence that these could be minimized by taking those initial steps first.
In fact, you may have type 2 diabetes for years and not know it because signs and symptoms often develop slowly. Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes to look for are:
Unintended weight gain/loss
Areas of darkened skin in armpits and neck
Although long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually, they can eventually be disabling or even life-threatening:
- Heart disease or stroke
- Retinopathy – blindness
- Erectile dysfunction
- Nephropathy – kidney disease
- Neuropathy – nerve damage
- Vascular disease – limb amputations
- Alzheimer’s disease
Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve the long-term prognosis, even if you have diabetes in your family. If you have already received a diagnosis of diabetes, you can use healthy lifestyle choices to help control the disease and prevent complications. If you have prediabetes, lifestyle changes can slow or stop the progression to diabetes.
A healthy lifestyle includes
- Eating healthy foods.Choose foods lower in sugar and calories and higher in fiber, so not processed. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Getting active. Aim for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity — or 15 to 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — on most days. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride a bike. Swim laps. If you cannot fit in a long workout, spread your activity throughout the day.
- Losing weight. If you are overweight, losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by remembering the benefits of losing weight, such as a healthier heart, more energy and improved self-esteem.
- Avoiding being sedentary for long periods. Sitting still for long periods can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Try to get up every 30 minutes and move around for at least a few minutes.
Healthy lifestyle choices remain the cornerstone and are essential for preventing or managing diabetes. However, there are several ways utilized in functional medicine to identify patients that are at increased risk of developing diabetes or at greater risk of developing complications of diabetes based on detailed history and screening along with blood testing. The advanced cardiometabolic analysis performed at Willowbend Health & Wellness helps us to understand the key contributors to inflammation and insulin resistance in each patient and identify the best course of action to improve your cardiometabolic health.