Type 2 diabetes affects millions of Americans. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body is not able to use insulin properly. Insulin is necessary for glucose (sugar) to get from your blood into your cells to be used for energy. When there is not enough insulin — or it doesn’t function as it should — glucose accumulates in the blood instead of being used by the cells. Often there are no type 2 diabetes symptoms, or they may be mild and go unrecognized. Here’s what to look for…
When there is excess glucose present in the blood, as with type 2 diabetes, the kidneys react by flushing it out of the blood into the urine. This results in more urine production and the need to urinate more frequently. If you notice you have to go to the bathroom more often than you used to — including perhaps needing to get up every couple of hours during the night to urinate — and you seem to be producing more urine when you do go, talk to your doctor about whether you could have type 2 diabetes.
High blood glucose sets up a domino effect of sorts within your system. High blood sugar leads to increased production of urine and the need to urinate more often, and frequent urination causes you to lose a lot of fluid and become dehydrated. Consequently, you develop a dry mouth and feel thirsty more often than you used to. If you notice that you are drinking more than usual, or that your mouth often feels dry and you feel thirsty more often, these could be signs of type 2 diabetes.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Having type 2 diabetes leads to your cells not getting enough glucose, causing you to lose weight. Also, if you are urinating more frequently because of uncontrolled diabetes, you may lose more calories and water, resulting in weight loss, says Daniel Einhorn, MD, medical director of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance — which means the body cannot use insulin properly to help the glucose get into the cells. In people with type 2 diabetes, “insulin doesn’t work well for some reason in muscle, fat, and other tissues, so your pancreas [the organ that makes insulin] starts to put out a lot more. This results in high insulin levels in the body,” says Fernando Ovalle, MD, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Multidisciplinary Diabetes Clinic. “That insulin level makes the brain feel hungry and makes you hungry.”
Foot Pain and Numbness
Over time, diabetes can cause damage to nerves throughout the body, a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in the prediabetic phase. “About 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by diabetes,” says Dr. Einhorn.
Wounds That Are Slow to Heal
This is a classic warning sign that should lead you to question whether you have diabetes, says Einhorn, though why this type 2 diabetes symptom occurs is not completely understood. “In a high blood sugar environment, things don’t heal properly, so a simple bruise on the leg or an injury to the skin may just heal more slowly,” says Einhorn. A bruise or bump that used to heal quickly now may stay around for a while and result in a brown scar.
Women with type 2 diabetes will get more vaginal infections because of more yeast in the vaginal area, says Einhorn, adding, “Those infections will often set up bladder infections.” Both yeast and bacteria multiply when blood sugar is elevated. Foot infections are also common because of damage diabetes does to the architecture of the foot, including the skin, blood vessels, and nerves. However, Einhorn says, foot problems are usually seen more frequently in that advanced diabetes.
The lens of the eye is a flexible membrane suspended by muscles, which change the shape of the lens to focus the eye. In a high-sugar environment such as uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, the lens’ ability to bend is altered. Although the lens is not damaged, the muscles have to work harder to focus. Blurred vision occurs when there are rapid changes in blood sugar (from low to high or high to low) and the eye muscles have not yet adapted to it, Einhorn says. Blurred vision is one of the early warning signs of type 2 diabetes. The body later adapts to the sugar levels, and your vision will go back to normal.
High levels of insulin cause the skin to become discolored and velvety in texture, a condition called acanthrosis nigricans. This is common in people with darker skin who have type 2 diabetes, including African Americans, Native Americans, and people of Hispanic origin. Acanthrosis nigricans “is a thickening and a darkening of the skin, typically around the neck, in the underarms, and in the groin,” adds Einhorn. “It’s quite a specific indicator of insulin resistance when you see it. It is definitely a warning sign you could be diabetic.”
Natural Remedies for Type 2 Diabetes
Although there are several different types of ginseng, most of the promising studies on ginseng and diabetes have used North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Those studies have shown that North American ginseng may improve blood sugar control and glycosylated hemoglobin (a form of hemoglobin in the blood used to monitor blood glucose levels over time) levels.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism and helps body cells properly respond to insulin. In fact, studies have found low levels of chromium in people with diabetes.
There are many promising studies suggesting chromium supplementation may be effective, but they are far from conclusive. For example, a small study published in the journal Diabetes Care compared the diabetes medication sulfonylurea taken with 1,000 mcg of chromium to sulfonylurea taken with placebo. After 6 months, people who did not take chromium had a significant increase in body weight, body fat, and abdominal fat, whereas people taking the chromium had significant improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Another study published in the same journal, however, examined the effect of chromium on glycemic control in insulin-dependent people with type 2 diabetes. People were given either 500 or 1,000 mcg a day of chromium or a placebo for six months. There was no significant difference in glycosylated hemoglobin, body mass index, blood pressure, or insulin requirements across the three groups. One form of chromium not recommended is chromium picolinate.
This is a mineral found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and in nutritional supplements. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and bone health. Some studies suggest that low magnesium levels may worsen blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes.
There is also some evidence that magnesium supplementation may help with insulin resistance. For example, a study examined the effect of magnesium or placebo in 63 people with type 2 diabetes and low magnesium levels who were taking the medication glibenclamide. After 16 weeks, people who took magnesium had improved insulin sensitivity and lower fasting glucose levels. High doses of magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and confusion. It can interact with certain medications, such as those for osteoporosis, high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers), as well as some antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and diuretics.
A couple of studies have found that cinnamon improves blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. In the first study, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were divided into six groups. Three groups took 1, 3 or 6 g of cinnamon a day and the remaining three groups consumed 1, 3 or 6 g of placebo capsules. After 40 days, all three doses of cinnamon significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
In another study, 79 people with type 2 diabetes (not on insulin therapy but treated with other diabetes medication or diet) took either a cinnamon extract (equivalent to 3 g of cinnamon powder) or a placebo capsule three times a day.
After four months, there was a slight but statistically significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels in people who took the cinnamon (10.3%) compared with the placebo group (3.4%), however, there was no significant difference in glycosylated hemoglobin or lipid profiles.
The mineral zinc plays an important role in the production and storage of insulin. There is some research showing that people with type 2 diabetes have suboptimal zinc status due to decreased absorption and increased excretion of zinc. Food sources of zinc include fresh oysters, ginger root, lamb, pecans, split peas, egg yolk, rye, beef liver, lima beans, almonds, walnuts, sardines, chicken, and buckwheat.
Aloe Vera Gel
Although aloe vera gel is better known as a home remedy for minor burns and other skin conditions, recent animal studies suggest that aloe vera gel may help people with diabetes. A Japanese study evaluated the effect of aloe vera gel on blood sugar. Researchers isolated a number of active phytosterol compounds from the gel that were found to reduce blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin levels.
Several preliminary studies suggest that the herb Gymnema can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Because Gymnema may lower blood sugar levels, people taking medications for diabetes or using insulin shouldn’t take Gymnema unless they are closely monitored by their healthcare provider.
Vanadium is a trace mineral found naturally in soil and many foods. It is also produced during the burning of petroleum. Vanadium has been found to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. It appears to mimic many of the actions of insulin in the body. The use of vanadium for diabetes, particularly without the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner, is not recommended because the dose needed to affect blood glucose levels can be potentially toxic. The typical amount of vanadium found in the average diet (less than 30 micrograms per day) appears to have little toxicity.
Other Herbal Remedies
- Momordica charantia