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Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes

By on August 11, 2015
Screen Shot 2015 08 11 at 11.02.20 AM 300x336 - Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes

Everyone has a unique story, but the desire to lose weight is consistently a concern for most patients. Whether they are overweight or obese, those I see in my practice reflect the nearly 14 million Canadians who are overweight or obese. Often physical 
appearance is a driving factor to lose weight, however, being overweight/obese is a major risk factor associated with the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus. With around 60 per cent of the world’s diabetes cases linked to increasing obesity rates, something needs to change soon.

 Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) cases are on the rise and have been linked to the western diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Fortunately, making some simple lifestyle changes can have profound effects on both preventing and treating T2D. The World Health Organization estimates a 70% increase in T2D cases by 2035. Maybe even more alarming is that studies now suggest that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop T2D in their lifetime. These numbers are frightening as T2D leads to a number of devastating consequences including: amputation, kidney disease and blindness. 

T2D occurs when the body loses its ability to use insulin or does not make enough insulin to regulate sugar levels in the body. When the body’s cells are no longer able to respond to insulin, sugar builds up outside the cells. The cells become energy deprived and blood sugar levels rise, leading to damage. Diabetes does have a strong genetic link; however, it is not the only factor that contributes to the formation of the disease. Poor lifestyle habits have a direct effect on the development of the disease, despite genetic predisposition. If you do not exercise, have poor eating habits, and are overweight/obese, it is time to start making lifestyle modifications to change your health long-term. 

Diet, Exercise and Probiotics: a Winning Combination
Many Canadians have sedentary jobs, and engage in little to no regular exercise. In reality, it is hard to find time to go for a walk or hit the gym when home and work schedules leave many people feeling as though they barely have time to sleep. Yet, the importance of physical activity cannot be stressed enough for its health benefits. Not only does exercise improve blood sugar control, but it also prevents the formation of T2D. Together, daily exercise and modest weight loss, reduces the risk of developing T2D by 58% in high-risk populations. A modest 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week is all that is necessary to see the results of exercise on T2D. It is important to remember that moderate to vigorous exercise is different for everyone. If you have never exercised, going for a 30-minute walk at a decent pace may be enough to achieve the benefits of exercise. Exercise also helps in the maintenance of weight loss, and helps to change body shape by increasing lean muscle and decreasing body fat, making you look and feel amazing.

Not exercising is part of the viscous cycle that leads to T2D, but diet plays a significant role in elevated blood sugar levels. Multiple studies have been done on the effects of diet on T2D, and the findings are consistent. Diets rich in vegetables, low in red meat and whole-fat dairy products are associated with a reduction in diabetes. Likewise, diets rich in grains, refined sugars, processed foods, and red meats all increase the incidence of T2D. It is a combination of poor dietary choices over time that leads to insulin resistance and increased sugar levels in the blood. The Mediterranean diet has shown promising results in regulating T2D in the absence of calorie restriction, weight loss and physical activity, but that is just one of many dietary interventions used in the treatment of T2D. 

Exciting new research is now looking beyond how diet affects blood sugar levels, and exploring the connection between diet, gut bacteria and T2D. Our gut microflora has been found to increase inflammation in the body leading to weight gain around our waists, and changes in our ability to control blood sugar levels. Research is showing that by regularly consuming refined sugars, alcohol, excessive fats, carbohydrates and processed foods; we are breaking down our healthy gut microflora and causing weight gain, and ultimately T2D.

Although diet and exercise are historically a winning combination of healthy lifestyle changes, newer research is now pointing out that it may not be enough. Supporting a healthy gut microflora must be added to the picture to achieve successful prevention and treatment of T2D. For adults currently suffering from T2D, working with a trained health professional, such as a naturopath, with knowledge of intestinal health is key.

Jennifer Hendry-Lynn, HBSc, ND is a naturopathic doctor practicing at REalign Health in Cambridge, Ontario. Visit: drjennd.com


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