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Sunday January 6, 2013

Controlling sugar levels

Many of the
health benefits
of berries such
as the wolfberry
are due to their
high antioxidant
content. Many of the health benefits of berries such as the wolfberry are due to their high antioxidant content.

Herbal and nutritional therapies for diabetes.

THIS is the third article on fighting diabetes. Diabetes is an impending national disaster and will consume much of our resources if we ignore the threat.

Already, one in five adults are afflicted. And the situation is getting worse.

In the first article, I explained how obese diabetics can reverse or cure their condition by reducing their weight to normal, which may include dieting, exercise, and even bariatric surgery for the morbidly obese after everything else has failed (and after adequate medical, dietary and psychological consultations).

In the second article, I explained how diabetes can be managed by a nutrient-dense, high-fibre, low saturated fat, whole-food (legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) diet combined with exercise and weight loss (if overweight).

I also shared about foods and nutrients that have been shown in scientific studies to improve insulin sensitivity. These include almonds, alpha lipoic acid, chromium, cinnamon, curcumin (turmeric), grapefruit, oatmeal, omega-3 (polyunsaturated fatty acids), vitamins D and K, and others.

Today, I would like to share some herbal and nutritional therapies that may be helpful in diabetes. For those with diabetes who are on drug treatment, these therapies may help them reduce or wean off the drugs. For those whose diabetes control is not good, these therapies may help avoid or delay the increase of drug dosage.

Remember that all drugs have multiple side-effects, while most herbal and nutritional therapies have multiple benefits, that is, even if the treatment fails to improve diabetes, there are other benefits that you can look forward to (eg some of these remedies also help normalise blood pressure).

A caveat: as with most herbal and nutritional therapies, only a few of the therapies mentioned below have undergone scientific studies to validate the claims. Most are based on traditional use, testimonials, and the clinical experience of doctors and other health practitioners I know.

With that disclaimer, and with the knowledge that these remedies are safe after being used for many years by many thousands of people, I advise those who are keen to try these therapies to do so without compromising the monitoring of diabetes (ideally by daily home blood glucose test), and without adjusting their drug doses on their own.

Let your doctor advise on that after seeing the record of your daily blood glucose. If the remedy works, the improvement can be seen as early as within one week, and it is reasonable to decide that it does not work if there are no improvements after one month of consumption.

Malaysia has a rich history of traditional medicines, and there are hundreds of herbal remedies claimed to be effective against diabetes.

I have tested some of these on my patients, and found several herbal teas and herbal juices indeed help in controlling the blood glucose in some patients. However, there are no formal studies to validate the claims made by the manufacturers of these products.

Berries: There are many berry-based fruit juices being sold. These are mostly claimed to be health-enhancing due to the high antioxidant content of berries and the other constituent fruits (eg mangosteen, pomegranate).

Many diabetics who consume these juices for the claimed health benefits also report better control of their diabetes. This has been confirmed by several doctors who have recommended these juices to their diabetic patients.

The most powerful of these berries (in terms of antioxidant power) are maqui, acai, gouji (wolfberry), and blackberries.

Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are “good” or “friendly” bacteria that improve the health of our intestines (mainly the colon), as well as the rest of the body as a result of improved colon health.

These good bacteria actually line our intestines, making sure harmful bacteria don’t get through into the body. Some of them also manufacture vitamin B (important for nerve health and managing stress), and help improve calcium absorption.

Prebiotics are food that feed the probiotics. Having abundant prebiotics will help the probiotic population grow. The gut has about 100 trillion bacteria. The percentage of good versus bad bacteria depends on the food and drugs you take.

Some raw foods contain live probiotics (eg yoghurt and other raw fermented foods) and/or prebiotics (eg insoluble fibre found in many fruits and veggies).

Note that cooking kills the probiotics.

Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, so it is important that you replenish your gut probiotics after every course of antibiotics.

Probiotics have been known to give many health benefits – including healthy bowels; improving coeliac disease; preventing asthma, infections and allergies in children; helping in weight loss; improving skin health; and preventing recurrent yeast infections.

Recent studies have shown that probiotics can help prevent/delay type 1 diabetes (study by University of Florida, reported in May 2011 in Future Medicine), and help in the management of type 2 diabetes. Many studies have shown the benefits of probiotics for diabetics, especially the obese ones.

A 2010 multicentre, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention study on 87 obese subjects found that subjects who consumed yoghurt (containing probiotics) had significantly reduced abdominal fat, body weight, and other factors that indicated the benefits on metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Thus, it is not surprising that many diabetics report better glucose control if they consume probiotics.

A review in Acta Diabetologica (December 2011) noted that intestinal microbiotica (ie the balance of good versus bad bacteria) is a causal factor in the development of the metabolic disorders such as diabetes. We will definitely see a bigger role for probiotics in mainstream modern medicine.

Already, many paediatricians are recommending milk formulas enriched with probiotics for growing children. There will come a time when probiotics will be officially endorsed as a daily supplement for all, as many of us health enthusiasts are already doing.

I get my probiotics through supplements, as I do not think that the yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, raw tempeh, natto, etc provide enough probiotics unless you consume lots and lots of it, like people of some other countries do as these are part of their usual meals.

Gum Arabic: Gum Arabic is the superstar of prebiotics. For many years, it has been used in the food and beverage industry, but not for its health benefits. It is the ingredient that helps keep the bubbles in your soda drink stable. Without the fizz, half the fun of drinking soda is gone (although drinking soda is certainly not good for health).

Since it is a powerful prebiotic, all the benefits of probiotics mentioned above can be expected from consuming it.

Gum Arabic is mainly produced in the arid lands of Sudan and neighbouring countries. It has been used as traditional medicine for many years, with many known health benefits. It was introduced to me by two friends, who also introduced me to the former Sudanese government minister who is the exporter.

We had a long discussion on the history and benefits of Gum Arabic. The former minister is convinced that it is the “food from heaven” (“Al Manna”) mentioned in the Bible and the Quran.

My two friends had gone to Sudan with him to inspect the area that grew the Acacia trees that produced Gum Arabic (much like how latex is produced once the bark of the rubber tree is poked or cut), and to see the manufacturing process.

The gummy product is sourced from two Acacia species (A. senegal and A. seyal) and then processed to powder form. It is consumed after mixing with plain cold water. My two friends are now the importer and CEO respectively of the importing company.

My friends have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of Gum Arabic. One is a medical practitioner who runs a busy clinic. His patients with diabetes showed remarkable improvements after consuming Gum Arabic, including one man who had kidney failure, was on dialysis for many years, and had not produced any urine for the last 10 years.

I also have a good story to tell. My mother (83 years old) has been on hypertensive medicines for many years (not prescribed by me!). She tried Gum Arabic, and after several weeks, her pressure is now normal without any drugs.

However, her blood pressure still goes up when she is stressed, and returns to normal when she is able to rest and forget whatever upsets her. She is now getting my aunties to take it too.

I strongly recommend everyone to try Gum Arabic. There are many benefits that are already known from the prebiotic properties that it has.

However, I suspect that it has many other constituents that are yet to be discovered.

In the next article, I will share yet more nutritional options to prevent and fight diabetes.

In the meantime, do not forget that fighting diabetes (and other chronic diseases) begins with a healthy lifestyle, a healthy diet, sufficient exercise (including building muscles), and maintaining optimum weight. I hope all of you made resolutions to improve your health in 2013. Happy New Year!

> Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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