An integrative approach is the best method for successfully treating patients with blood sugar disorders and metabolic syndrome.
Blood sugar fluctuations can happen to anyone, with symptoms such as nausea, extreme hunger and trembling happening as a result of blood sugar dropping due to something as common as a missed meal.
Diabetes, a life-threatening disease and probably the most well-known blood sugar disorder, affects more than 29 million Americans, while an additional 86 million Americans are considered to have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Each year, 1.4 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in the U.S., and in 2010, diabetes remained listed as the seventh leading cause of death in America.
Another serious health condition related to blood sugar that affects approximately 34 percent of American adults is metabolic syndrome, which is diagnosed with three out of the following five symptoms—high blood sugar, low high density lipoprotein (HDL), high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and obesity or large waist circumference–are present.
Prevalence for metabolic syndrome is also on the rise globally. A study published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimated that overall prevalence of metabolic syndrome increased from 32.9 percent to 34.7 percent from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, and from 2003 to 2012, prevalence was higher in women than in men. When the study authors looked at prevalence by race, the group most affected were Hispanics, followed by non-Hispanic whites and then African-Americans. With regard to age, close to 47 percent of people surveyed in the study were baby boomers—60 years of age or older. Cheri Calbom, MS, CN, author of The Juice Lady’s Sugar Knockout, attributed the rise of blood sugar disorders and metabolic syndrome to diet. “Sugar intake has increased to about 20 teaspoons per day,” she stated. “The liver simply can’t handle that much sugar. When you overload the liver with sugar, you set yourself up for a metabolic disorder.”
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director at the Practitioners Alliance Network, agreed and pointed out that the average American diet consists of approximately 140 pounds of added sugar each year, turning people into sugar addicts. Dr. Teitelbaum expressed that there are four major types of sugar addiction. He published a book on the phenomenon, The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction, which explains how to address each type.
Other major factors Dr. Teitelbaum believed to contribute to rising rates of metabolic syndrome include lifestyle choices, such as decreased exercise and avoidance of sunshine, as well as inadequate testosterone levels in males.
Additional lifestyle factors, which could give rise to symptoms causing metabolic syndrome include too much stress and lack of sleep. Shailinder Sodhi, BAMS, ND, president of Washington-based Ayush Herbs, Inc. and Dr. Priya Walia, the company’s naturopathic and ayurvedic research consultant, shared that stress reduction techniques, such as meditation and breathing practices, should also be considered in a natural treatment approach to effectively address the mental, emotional, and physical level of well-being. They also suggested an appropriate practice for good sleep hygiene, which includes winding down for one to two hours before going to bed, incorporating practices such as journaling, meditation and breathing practices. For meditation, patients should sit in a quiet, comfortable location. “Focus on the breath and let thoughts pass as they arise,” the doctors shared.
Dr. Teitelbaum stressed that an integrative approach is necessary to effectively reverse metabolic syndrome, including changes to diet, adequate hormonal support, nutritional and herbal support, changes to lifestyle, and in some cases, use of prescription medications such as metformin.
Treating the sugar addiction that occurs as a result of the excessive amount of added sugar in the average diet is key. Calborn concurred, adding that sugar should represent no more than 10 percent of a person’s diet. “Read labels,” she cautioned. “Sugar is added to many packaged and pre-made foods. We need to be more conscious of where it’s sneaking into our foods today, such as marinara sauce, yogurt, peanut butter, bread, salad dressing, fruit juice, dried fruit (coating) and breakfast cereal.”
“Being mindful of your food intake goes beyond counting calories,” said Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, founder and lead formulator at Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas in California. “For people with concerns about diabetes, metabolic syndrome or weight, it’s critical to emphasize foods that are low on the glycemic index. Good choices include high-fiber vegetables, whole grains and legumes and many nuts. Healthy fats, such as olive and coconut oil, improve feelings of fullness and help to avoid the reach for high carb sweet and salty foods.”
Hormonal support was also highlighted in Dr. Teitelbaum’s recommended treatment approach. This includes ensuring testosterone levels in both women and men are within normal ranges. If low thyroid is a problem, this should also be addressed. Additionally, researchers have discovered that low levels of adropin, a hormone scientists believe places an important role in regulating glucose levels, may be associated with obesity and thus pose a risk for metabolic syndrome. Further studies are needed to learn more about adropin, but researchers are hopeful that use of this hormone in the future will be a benefit to people who suffer from diabetes and other blood sugar disorders.
Nutritional and herbal support are a third focus of treatment for those living with metabolic syndrome. Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, author of Living with Metabolic Syndrome agreed. “Foods such as salmon, vegetables, legumes and fruit are strongly encouraged because they are not processed, so they are easier to digest, process and increase metabolic activity,” he explained. In addition, he noted that herbal supplements are effective for regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, as well as improving cardiac health and other symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. “A study was performed in 2011 about how consumers choose their supplements, and 55 percent of them answered that they go with their doctors’ recommendations,” he said.
A fourth area where fundamental change must occur in order to improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome is lifestyle. Practitioners and research scientists agree that Americans are not getting enough exercise and many spend little-to-no time outdoors. The ADA (American Diabetes Association) recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity five times per week, in addition to two sessions of strength training. While many people have been scared off from spending time in the sun due to increased skin cancer risk, moderate exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light does have its benefits. A 2014 study published in the ADA’s journal, Diabetes, found that UV light slowed weight gain in overfed mice due to the skin’s release of nitric oxide. “These observations further indicate that the amounts of nitric oxide released from the skin may have beneficial effects not only on heart and blood vessels, but also on the way our body regulates metabolism,” stated study author, Dr. Martin Feelisch, professor of experimental medicine and integrative biology at the University of Southampton. Lastly, if necessary, practitioners should consider treatment with reliable prescription drugs such as metformin, which is well-known for its ability to control blood sugar in patients who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
When combined with the right diet, proper dietary supplementation can be especially beneficial for people who are suffering from blood sugar disorders and metabolic syndrome. Research has shown that certain minerals and other compounds, including chromium, have been effective.
Chromium Chromium is an essential mineral that can affect how insulin helps the body regulate its blood sugar levels. Low levels of chromium can increase blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing a person’s risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Food sources of chromium include brewer’s yeast, broccoli and whole grains, such as barley and oats.
New York-based Patient One Medinutritionals offers GC Factors, a combination of natural compounds that support healthy glucose and insulin metabolism and promote healthy blood sugar levels. A key ingredient in this supplement is ChromeMate, a niacin-bound chromium complex that research has shown effective for blood sugar control, lipid modification and maintaining a healthy body weight. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers found that ChromeMate significantly lowered fasting blood sugar levels, while the placebo had no effect. Another study which looked at the effects of chromium and exercise on obese, female subjects found that women who took ChromeMate in combination with an exercise regimen experienced significant weight loss, as well as a lowered insulin response, when oral glucose was administered. Another main ingredient in this proprietary blend is Cinnulin PF, a cinnamon-based extract that has demonstrated the ability to reduce risk factors associated with both diabetes and heart disease in clinical research studies. Clinical trials with human subjects have shown cinnamon’s ability to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keep blood pressure levels in check. Patient One Medinutritionals formulas are both gluten free and non-GMO (genetically modified organism). Herbal Remedies “Taking supplements such as ginseng, spirulina and maca root are effective for lowering blood pressure, improving metabolism, and improving diabetes,” Dr. Ali shared. “Ginseng is a Chinese herb that is concentrated into a tablet. It is effective for regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, which allows patients to manage their weight in a positive way.” He explained that spirulina contains the pigment phycocyanin, which helps lowers blood pressure. “Maca root is a root that has been converted into a tablet to help improve heart health and the effects of diabetes and other manifestations of metabolic syndrome.”
Calbom recommended another plant-based supplement, berberine, for its ability to help balance blood sugar. “In its hydrochloride form, [berberine] has been used to treat diabetes and cardiovascular dysfunction. It works on the insulin receptor, increasing the cell’s glucose consumption. It also is helpful for the cardiovascular system, lipids and liver. Berberine lowers elevated liver enzymes and is very good for diabetics with liver problems.”
Dr. Teitelbaum seconded berberine as an effective way to treat patients with metabolic syndrome. “Three hundred to 500 mg [of berberine], three times a day at the start of each meal, was shown to be as effective as metformin for decreasing blood sugars, and also lowers cholesterol,” he stated.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal, Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders in 2013 found a remission of metabolic syndrome in the group who received berberine, with decreases in waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides and total insulin secretion.
Ayush Herbs offers BioGymnema, an ayurvedic herbal blend that helps maintain blood sugar and insulin levels already within a normal range, as well as supporting the pancreas. The blend of herbs includes gymnema sylvestre, that is known for supporting a healthy blood sugar as well as for energy metabolism, for urinary, kidney and digestive support, as well as a general antioxidant. Pterocarpus marsupium, ocimum sanctum, momordica charantia, and azadirachta indica help maintain blood sugar and insulin levels already within a normal range, as well as supporting the pancreas.
Advanced Glucose Support from Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas is an integrative formula that combines botanical extracts and medicinal mushrooms drawn from traditional Chinese, ayurvedic and naturopathic medicine with essential minerals and other compounds. It works via multiple mechanisms and includes the following:
• Gymnema sylvestre: Promotes insulin release, hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic activity, helps maintain healthy blood pressure and supports a healthy weight.
• Cinnamomum cassia: Supports against formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGE) and promotes glucose tolerance.
• Trigonella foenum: For antioxidant benefits, as well as helping maintain glucose control and promoting insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in peripheral tissue.
• Emblica officinalis: For antioxidant benefits, maintaining glucose tolerance and healthy triglycerides levels.
• Ocimum sanctum: For antioxidant benefits, as well as hypolipidemic and immune-supporting effects.
• Syzygium jambolanum: For antioxidant benefits, as well as to delay starch to sugar conversion.
Several other ingredients are included in the complex that are known to improve blood sugar disorders and metabolic syndrome, including alpha lipoic acid (ALA), taurine and zinc.
For the practitioner, education is critical to helping patients. “In today’s society, people are trying to refrain from taking medications that may not be necessary, especially if there are holistic options, said Dr. Ali. “The best way for practitioners to tend to their patients is to educate themselves as to what natural approaches their patients can take before dietary and vitamin supplements are discussed.”
“It’s important to work with companies, like Clinical Synergy Professional Formulas, that provide educational resources for both patients and practitioners, including research, patient guides and protocol information,” Dr. Eliaz explained. “These resources can allow practitioners to make informed choices and help their patients understand the benefits of specific products, and how to use them.”
Butler, A. A., Tam, C. S., Stanhope, K. L., Wolfe, B. M., Ali, M. R., O’Keeffe, M., … & Havel, P. J. (2012). Low circulating adropin concentrations with obesity and aging correlate with risk factors for metabolic disease and increase after gastric bypass surgery in humans. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 97 (10), 3783-3791.
Geldenhuys, S., Hart, P. H., Endersby, R., Jacoby, P., Feelisch, M., Weller, R. B., … & Gorman, S. (2014). Ultraviolet radiation suppresses obesity and symptoms of metabolic syndrome independently of vitamin D in mice fed a high-fat diet. Diabetes, 63 (11), 3759-3769.
Rizvi, S. I., & Mishra, N. (2013). Traditional Indian medicines used for the management of diabetes mellitus. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2013.