Diabetes is at epidemic proportions in America. According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and 79 million have prediabetes, a stage in which blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. "If diabetes were a communicable disease, it would be called a pandemic," Dr. Nuha El Sayed of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, told Newsmax Health. "It's definitely a crisis."
The epidemic shows no signs of slowing. According to UnitedHealth, more than half of Americans will be diabetic or prediabetic by 2020. Diabetes brings a host of complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage, poor circulation, hearing loss, erectile dysfunction, periodontal disease, and diabetic retinopathy. Studies also show that diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer's, and a recent study from the University of Washington in Seattle found that high blood sugar levels that fall far short of high enough to be diagnosed as being diabetes increased the risk for dementia.
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Diabetes is classified as either Type 1 or Type 2. With Type 1, the body fails to produce the insulin necessary to convert sugar and starches to energy, while Type 2 diabetics don't properly use the insulin they produce.
A healthy diet is a proven key in the fight against diabetes, and studies have shown that some foods are particularly effective at lowering blood sugar. They include:
• Cinnamon. A study published in Diabetes Care found that one, three, or six grams of cinnamon daily (as little as a quarter of a teaspoon) lowered glucose levels by up to 29 percent. While the results of another study weren't as impressive, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial at Imperial College London found that two grams of cinnamon daily for 12 weeks lowered sugar levels about 8 percent. Sugar levels in the placebo group rose over the same period. This common spice contains a substance called MHCP which has been shown to renew the capacity of fat cells to respond to insulin and remove glucose. Experts recommend between a quarter of a teaspoon and a teaspoon daily.
• Vinegar. Vinegar is often touted as a folk remedy for many illnesses, usually in the form of apple cider vinegar. Researchers at Arizona State University East found that two tablespoons of vinegar before meals cut sugar levels in prediabetics by 50 percent, and by 25 percent in diabetics. In addition, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that drinking apple cider vinegar after eating a high-carb breakfast lowered blood sugar levels by 34 percent in patients with prediabetes, and by 19 percent in those who had Type 2 diabetes. "Vinegar appears to have effects similar to some of the most popular medications for diabetes," said Arizona State University researcher Carol Johnson.
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• Pomegranates. Pomegranates have long been a popular fruit in the Middle East and India, and they are increasing in popularity in the United States. They have many health benefits running the gamut from arthritis prevention to protection against prostate cancer. Israeli researchers say it also has important benefits for diabetics, showing that drinking six ounces of the juice daily for three months lowered the risk for atherosclerosis, which causes 80 percent of deaths in diabetics. Surprisingly, the researchers found the sugars in the juice did not seem to affect blood sugar levels.
• Almonds. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that a diet rich in almonds improved insulin sensitivity as well as lowered levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Other studies have found that 1.5 to 2 ounces of almonds daily for women and 2 to 3 ounces daily for men lowered risks of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
• Garlic. Long used as a traditional treatment in many cultures, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Center says garlic can increase the level of insulin in the blood. Both animal and human studies conducted in Japan, India, and Saudi Arabia show that garlic regulates and lowers blood sugar. The Indian study found the allicin in garlic combines with the B vitamin thiamine and stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin.
Some experts recommend a clove of fresh garlic two or three times a day.
• Apples. A recent study from Harvard University found that eating two servings of whole fruits a week, particularly apples, blueberries, and grapes, reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 23 percent. A Finnish study found that men who ate foods high in quercetin, such as apples, reduced their risk of diabetes by 20 percent. Other sources of quercetin include onions, tomatoes, berries, and green leafy vegetables.
• Green tea. Green tea helps regulate blood sugar, and the authors of a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry wrote that "tea may be a simple, inexpensive means of preventing or retarding human diabetes." Some experts recommend two to three cups of green tea each day.
• Chocolate. According to Italian researchers, the flavonoids in dark chocolate help counteract insulin insensitivity, the condition that prevents Type 2 diabetics from using insulin effectively. Eating 100 grams of dark chocolate a day accelerated the body's metabolism of glucose.
• Whole-fat dairy products. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that a fatty acid found in dairy products called trans-palmitoleic acid reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Whole-fat products contain more of the fatty acid than low-fat versions, and people with the highest blood levels lowered their risk of diabetes by 62 percent compared to those with the lowest levels. Researchers suggested that three to five servings of whole-fat dairy products daily would probably produce sufficiently high levels of fatty acids.
• Pumpkin. Researchers from East China Normal University say they have discovered chemicals in pumpkins that successfully helped regenerate damaged pancreatic cells in rats. The compounds boosted the pancreatic cells, which are the producers of insulin, to a degree that they believe may eventually eliminate the need for insulin injections, or the amount of insulin needed will be drastically reduced. The pumpkin compound was tested on rats with Type 1 diabetes, but the researchers believe it may also help counter Type 2.
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