By Dr. Michael Miles
This is another instance of “too much of a good thing can be bad for us.” Sugar is an essential part of life. It is required as fuel by every cell in our bodies. It is provided in every food that we eat. Problems occur when we take in too much of it too quickly.
Some foods have just “bare naked” sugar, like we find in candy and cake and soda pop. This enters our blood stream in large amounts instantaneously without other nutrients to help process it. Other foods deposit sugar into our system just as quickly, but give us a few vitamins and minerals and enzymes to help us process it. This is what happens with fruit juice and honey. Finally, Mother Nature packages sugar in fiber-rich foods like vegetables that release it slowly and evenly over time so that we have a constant supply of manageable fuel at our disposal.
We can get ourselves into trouble if we are exposed to too much sugar at any one time. This is basically the definition of diabetes: too much sugar in the blood stream consistently over time. Think of the blood stream as the highways of your body. Sugar will be carried along these highways on their way to feed all of your cells. Insulin acts as a key to unlock the doors of the cells and allow the sugar to enter from the bloodstream. The cells then use the sugar as fuel to do whatever it is that they are programmed to do (for example a heart cell will pump, a liver cell will detoxify, a brain cell will think, etc.).
Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas. It is released in various amounts depending on the amount of sugar that it’s used to seeing in the blood stream. People with Type I Diabetes have a malfunction in their pancreas that is considered permanent. They are unable to produce the insulin necessary to get the sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells. These people require an outside source of insulin in order to survive. They comprise less than 0.2% of the population. A problem that is more prevalent (2% or more of the population) is Type II Diabetes, which is excess sugar in the blood stream caused from exhaustion of an overworked pancreas rather than by a non-repairable problem.
Another cause of Type II diabetes is insulin resistance – the cells rebel against the constant onslaught of insulin over many years and “change the locks” so that insulin no longer provides access for the incoming sugar (fuel). The result is the same – too much sugar in the blood stream.
Type II diabetes is usually correctable. A commonly seen scenario is that a person regularly eats a lot of sugar (I’m referring to candy and the like – stuff with “table sugar” in it). This sugar is sometimes referred to as “simple” carbohydrates because there’s nothing with it, just pure sugar (carbohydrates). Then, the pancreas works overtime to put out lots of insulin in order to get the sugar transferred into the cells. When the pancreas puts this much insulin into the bloodstream it quickly pulls all the sugar out and leaves you “empty.” There is then no fuel available to feed your cells. This is called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It is considered “pre-diabetes.” After many years of overworking, the pancreas may simply give out and be unable to produce the insulin necessary to process the sugar coming into the body. Now we’re back to the first definition of diabetes: sugar without insulin to deliver it.
The problems of diabetes are many and varied. In extreme cases you can go into a coma. You can develop hardening of the arteries easily. You can develop high blood pressure, cataracts, foot ulcers, nerve damage, and kidney failure among other things. Some of the first signs of diabetes are increased urination, increased drinking and increased eating. Simple blood tests are available to detect a tendency towards diabetes. And, the cure for Type II Diabetes is relatively simple (on paper). Just start eating complex sugars, also known as “complex” carbohydrates (those packaged in fiber – like vegetables) and completely avoid the simple sugars of sodas and candy. Supplements like chromium can help your insulin to do its job. It may take a year or two to retrain your pancreas, but it’s worth the effort to avoid some major health problems in the future.
If medications are chosen to assist sugar management during this process, it is important to determine the cause of the diabetes first. An insulin test will help distinguish between insulin depletion and insulin resistance.