It is of no surprise or coincidence that obesity and diabetes are on the rise. While your waistline increases, so does your risk of developing diabetes. In our high stress, fast paced society it has become more prevalent to overeat, not exercise, sleep less, and neglect self-care.
Diabetes Mellitus is characterized by a dysfunction of blood sugar regulation. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body to use glucose, or sugar, as energy. Hyperglycemia, or an excess of blood glucose, may result from a relative insulin deficiency, insulin resistance, or a combination of the two. Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus is an autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta-cells (the cells that produce your insulin). Type 2 Diabetes is multifactorial and strongly correlated with obesity, which is on the rise in the United States.
The rate of adult obesity in the United States is higher than ever at 42.4%. Obesity is characterized by an excess storage of body fat and can be defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, greater than 30.0. Obesity is one of the strongest risk factors for developing diabetes.
What Exacerbates Obesity and Diabetes?
Obesity itself increases the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, weight loss is typically not as simple as eating fewer calories than you burn. Chronic stress, inadequate sleep, food intolerances, and hormonal imbalances all may contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Besides obesity, other risk factors for developing diabetes include hypertension, dyslipidemia, inactivity, smoking, nutritional deficiencies, having a family history of diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), gestational diabetes, being in a high-risk ethnic group (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Polynesian), and more.
Complications of Obesity and Diabetes
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, asthma, erectile dysfunction, osteoarthritis, depression, cancer, gallbladder disease, and more. Some long-term complications of diabetes include, but are not limited to, nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, heart failure, stroke, poor wound healing, altered immune function, and gangrene, which may even require amputation.
While diabetes can be officially diagnosed with lab work, symptoms of hyperglycemia may include increased thirst, urination, and hunger, along with blurred vision, lower extremity numbness/tingling, and yeast infections. Often times, no symptoms are present and diabetes is first detected during routine lab work.
What Can You Do About It?
Not only can you prevent diabetes, but it is possible for it to be reversed! Optimizing lifestyle habits is a great place to start when looking to improve insulin sensitivity and weight management.
1. Diet: Dietary interventions are aimed to improve glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and should be adjusted towards individual patient needs. Emphasizing vegetables and fruit in the diet is important to provide antioxidants, decrease inflammation, and support your nutritional needs. Eating a diet high in fiber may improve overall glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, meaning the way your body manages your blood sugar. Reducing your intake of refined sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, processed carbohydrates, and alcohol is another great place to start. Not only is what you eat important, but also when and how much you eat. Meal timing can be an important concept when trying to manage weight. Aiming to eat your last bite of food at least three hours before bed will likely improve the way your body metabolizes food while you sleep. Intermittent fasting and time restricted eating may be other ways to reduce insulin resistance. A Naturopathic Physician will be able to individualize a diet to meet your metabolic and hormonal needs.
2. Exercise: Regular physical activity is another way to promote insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and enhance weight loss. Engaging in regular weight-bearing and aerobic exercise can improve body composition, cardiovascular health, and boost energy. It may also promote restful sleep, manage stress, promote detoxification, improve mood, and more. While you may need to start slow when increasing your level of activity; increasing movement, overall, can reduce your risk of becoming obese or developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Stress Management: Increased body fat, especially in the abdominal region, causes elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone with many important roles in the body including directing our sleep-wake cycle. Cortisol tells our liver to convert fat into glucose for energy when our blood sugar is low. This is important for short-term stimulation, but issues start to arise with elevations of cortisol long-term. When you experience stress, cortisol is released. Chronic stress may be contributing to difficulty losing weight by decreasing your metabolic rate and increasing your appetite. Not only can high stress contribute to obesity, but being obese also increases cortisol levels. Working on stress management can help break this cycle. It is important to identify where your stress is coming from. In the meantime, some stress-management strategies include meditation, yoga, using a gratitude journal, acupuncture, practicing self-care, and making time to do the things you enjoy in your day-to-day life.
4. Sleep: Sleep is crucial to metabolic health. Insulin sensitivity decreases with a reduction of sleep, increasing the risk of diabetes development. Optimizing sleep has been shown to improve blood sugar control in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Have you ever noticed an increase in cravings and appetite after a poor night of sleep? Sleep loss is associated with an increase in the “hunger hormone”, known as ghrelin, and a decrease in the “satiety hormone”, leptin. This increases appetite, which can then lead to weight gain. Optimizing sleep habits, quality, and amount is an essential but often overlooked factor in the risk and management of obesity and diabetes.
How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help You?
Working with a licensed Naturopathic Physician can provide a holistic approach to the management or prevention of diabetes and obesity. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes individualized care in identifying and treating the underlying cause(s) of what may be contributing to disease. Along the way, your ND may look to improve your detoxification pathways, your digestion and gut microbiome, and identify food intolerances to support weight loss and blood sugar regulation. Your ND may use herbs and supplements to aid in the reduction of your blood sugar, improve your stress, optimize your sleep, and decrease other risks that contribute to disease and dysfunction. A plan meeting you where you are at will be tailored towards your individualized needs, risks, and health. In these times of increased stress and uncertainty, prioritizing your physical and emotional health is more important than ever.
Megan Lester is a naturopath medical student working with Collaborative Natural Health Partners. She is finishing school this December and has specialized in lifestyle medicine with disease prevention. Her commitment to health and lifestyle is inspiring and translates to helping patients find their path to better habits and health.
For more information about Collaborative Natural Health Partners, call 860.533.0179 or visit: ctnaturalhealth.com.