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  • Home  > Articles on Health  > Blood Sugar Levels

    Blood Sugar

    Blood Sugar Levels

    Consistent blood sugar levels results in better health

    We hear a lot about the harmful effects of a poor diet on our health. We hear about how it leads to obesity, how it can lead to increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and how it can mean overall poor health due to lack of nutrition. Another risk of an unhealthy diet—especially if it includes large quantities of carbohydrates and simple sugars—is what it does to our blood sugar levels.

    Blood sugar is, simply enough, the amount of sugar (glucose) we have in our blood. When we eat, our body breaks down food carbohydrates to produce sugars. The sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, which carries it to every cell in the body. Blood sugar fuels the cells, providing them with the energy they need to keep us healthy.

    It is extremely important that blood sugar levels remain consistent and not be too high or too low. The normal amount of sugar in the blood ranges from 60 mg/dL (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) to 120 mg/dL, depending on when a person last ate.

    How it works

    The amount of sugar in the blood is largely controlled by the hormone insulin. When the body recognizes that we are eating and turning food into sugars, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin acts like a travel guide, escorting sugar through the bloodstream and then "knocking on and unlocking the cells’ doors" to allow glucose to enter. When the pancreas, insulin, and the cells are not working in harmony, the result can be diabetes—high levels of blood sugar.

    Diabetes

    In diabetes, blood sugar levels are too high. There are two reasons for this.

    • Insulin-dependent diabetes, which is known as Type I diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes, is caused by damage to the pancreas. Part of the pancreas, beta cells, manufacture the insulin that escorts blood sugar to the cells. If beta cells are not working, or not working well, you do not produce enough insulin—there are not enough “travel guides” to get the blood sugar to the cells. The result is that the blood sugar remains in the bloodstream—high blood sugar levels.

      In noninsulin-dependent diabetes, which is known as Type II diabetes or adult-onset diabetes, insulin is produced, but the cells remain resistant to it—you might say they keep changing the “locks” so that the insulin cannot bring in the blood sugar. This also results in high blood sugar levels. Type II diabetes is by far the most prevalent, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetics.


    Diabetes and high blood sugar result in frequent urination, extreme thirst, increased appetite, unexplained weight loss, dry skin and frequent skin infections, recurrent vaginitis, blurred vision, fatigue, drowsiness, and nausea. Diabetes has the potential for serious long-term complications that can lead to increased risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, visual problems and blindness, slow healing of injuries, kidney failure, and damage to the nervous system.

    Diabetes and low blood sugar

    Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may result from treatment for diabetes. Taking too much medication, missing or delaying a meal, eating too little food for the amount of insulin taken, exercising too strenuously, drinking too much alcohol, or any combination of these factors may lead to low blood sugar levels. This can result in weakness, shakiness, nervousness, anxiety, faintness, and marked personality changes.

    Although hypoglycemia is most prevalent as a complication of diabetes, other causes include early pregnancy, prolonged fasting, and long periods of strenuous exercise.

    Support for blood sugar

    Healthy blood sugar levels can be maintained through diet and lifestyle changes. Of special interest are the minerals chromium and vanadium and the herbs bitter melon and Gymnema sylvestre.

    Chromium

    Chromium is the major mineral involved in insulin production, and a deficiency in this mineral can interfere with the production and utilization of insulin. Indeed, a chromium deficiency can result in three conditions directly related to blood sugar: high blood sugar levels, an inability of the cells to pick up and use blood sugar (impaired glucose tolerance), and higher insulin levels.

    Chromium increases the ability of insulin to bind to cells and leads to increased insulin sensitivity of body tissue. This leads to the body being better able to absorb and use the blood sugar. In other words, chromium helps the insulin "travel guide" get to more doors and oils the key that the travel guide uses to unlock our cells to the blood sugar. Studies have indicated that chromium does lower blood sugar and insulin levels in those with Type II diabetes.

    The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has noted that current data suggests that chromium supplementation can be useful for people with glucose intolerance, Type II diabetes, gestational diabetes, and steroid-induced diabetes.

    Vanadium

    Although as early as 1899 it was found that a form of vanadium resulted in a decrease in blood sugar levels, it was not until the late 1970s that vanadium’s insulin-like action was first described. Vanadium may activate insulin receptors—making the cell more receptive to the insulin’s "key" — and through this exert insulin-like action.

    This has been supported in two small clinical trials. In one, eight patients with Type II diabetes received 50 mg of vanadium sulfate two times per day for four weeks. The abstract of this study notes that the vanadium was well-tolerated and resulted in modest reductions of blood sugar and hepatic insulin resistance. Metabolism 45, no. 9 (September 1996): 1,130-5.

    In another small trial, six patients with Type II diabetes were given vanadium. The authors note that after three weeks, insulin sensitivity was improved (J Clin Invest 95, no. 6 (June 1995): 2,501-9). In another trial, the effects of vanadium were compared in moderately obese Type II diabetic and nondiabetic subjects. The authors note in their abstract that “In conclusion, small oral doses of vanadyl sulfate do not alter insulin sensitivity in nondiabetic subjects, but it does improve both hepatic and skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity in NIDDM [Type II] subjects in part by enhancing insulin’s inhibitory effect on the breaking down of fats. These data suggest that vanadyl sulfate may improve a defect in insulin signaling specific to NIDDM.” Diabetes 45, no. 5 (May 1996): 659-66.

    Bitter melon

    Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of the Amazon, East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and throughout South America. It is used as a food as well as a medicine.

    Bitter melon does much the same as chromium: it improves the body’s ability to use blood sugar and improves glucose tolerance—that is, the body’s ability to get the blood sugar into the cells.

    In one small study, using 100 ml of bitter melon juice was found to improve glucose tolerance by 73 percent in a standard glucose tolerance test (J Ethnopharmacology 17 (1986) 277-282.) In another small study, an aqueous extract of bitter melon fruit was found to decrease blood sugar levels by 54 percent. Phytotherapy Res 7, no. 4 (1993): 285-289.

    It also has an important additional benefit: at least one animal study has noted that bitter melon fruit juice results in an increase in the number of beta cells—the cells that produce insulin—in the pancreas of diabetic rats when compared with untreated diabetic rats. The authors of the study suggest that bitter melon may cause a renewal and recovery of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 40, no. 3 (June 1998): 145-51.


    Gymnema sylvestre

    Like chromium and vanadium, Gymnema sylvestre works to help increase glucose tolerance. Like bitter melon, it may help the pancreas produce insulin.

    Gymnema has been used with patients suffering from both Type I and Type II diabetes. In one study with 27 Type I diabetes patients, the gymnema extract reduced the insulin requirements and lowered the fasting blood glucose levels. The abstract notes that Gymnema extract enhances the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, possibly by regeneration/revitalization of the residual beta cells in Type I diabetes. J Ethnopharmacol 30 (1990): 281-294.

    An animal study supports this. In diabetic rat pancreas, extracts of Gymnema were able to double the islet number (clumps of pancreatic cells) and beta cell number (insulin-producing cells). These results show that Gymnema may improve the health of the pancreas. J Ethnopharmacol 30 (1990): 265-279.

    As far as Type II diabetes goes, in one study, Gymnema extract was administered for 18 to 20 months to 22 Type II patients taking conventional medication. All the patients showed a significant reduction in blood sugar levels, and five of the 22 diabetic patients were able to maintain their blood sugar levels without conventional drugs. Similar to the above studies, the results also showed higher levels of insulin in the blood, indicating that the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas may be regenerated/repaired in Type II diabetes patients on Gymnema supplementation. J Ethnopharmacol 30 (1990): 295-300.


    This article is reproduced from Partner's Magazine with the permission of AIM International



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