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Transforming Diabetes Trough Lifestyle Medicine

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Written by Dr. Daniela Steyn

Diabetes Doctor

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is very important for your overall health. Diabetes, prediabetes or insulin resistance, and many other chronic conditions are caused or worsened by poor blood sugar control.


On World Diabetes Day, we stand at the forefront of a transformative era in diabetes care. Recent studies have shown the important role of lifestyle medicine in managing diabetes. Lifestyle medicine offers a holistic and evidence-based strategy, addressing the root causes of diabetes and empowering you to take charge of your health.


In this blog, we explore the significance of lifestyle medicine, unveiling the six pillars of health that have emerged as game-changers in diabetes care.


What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, a chronic metabolic disorder, starts when the body struggles to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels effectively. There are two primary types: Type 1, where the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells, and Type 2, where the body becomes insulin resistant or does not produce enough insulin.


If not properly managed, diabetes can lead to serious health complications. The reason diabetes is considered harmful is because of its potential to affect various organs and systems in the body due to consistently high blood sugar levels. Here are some of the complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes:

  • Cardiovascular Complications: Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and the heart, leading to conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attack, and hypertension.

  • Kidney Damage: Diabetes can damage the kidneys over time, leading to chronic kidney disease or even kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplantation.

  • Eye Problems: Diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy, leading to vision problems and potentially blindness. It can also increase the risk of other eye conditions like glaucoma and cataracts.

  • Nerve Damage: High blood sugar levels can damage the nerves, causing diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to pain, tingling, or numbness, usually in the extremities. In severe cases, it can lead to amputations.

  • Foot Complications: Diabetes can reduce blood flow to the feet and cause nerve damage. This makes it difficult for individuals with diabetes to notice foot injuries, which can lead to ulcers, infections, and, in severe cases, amputation.

  • Dental Issues : Diabetes increases the risk of gum infections, gingivitis, and periodontal disease, leading to tooth loss.

  • Skin Complications: Diabetes can lead to various skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections. Itching and slow wound healing are also common issues.

  • Mental Health: Diabetes can impact your mental health, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.


Conventional Diabetes Management

Diabetes management involves a combination of lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. Here are the common methods used to control diabetes:


1. Healthy Eating Habits

Following a balanced and controlled diet is fundamental in diabetes management. Monitoring carbohydrate intake, choosing foods with a low glycemic index, and controlling portion sizes are essential strategies.


2. Medications

Your doctor may prescribe medications like metformin, insulin, or other oral medications to help regulate your blood sugar levels.


3. Insulin Therapy

For individuals with Type 1 diabetes and some with Type 2 diabetes, insulin therapy is necessary. Insulin can be administered through injections or insulin pumps to help regulate blood sugar levels effectively.


4. Regular Medical Check-ups

Regular visits to healthcare providers, including endocrinologists and diabetes educators, are usually recommended.


5. Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels

Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels using glucose meters helps you keep track of your levels throughout the day. This information enables better understanding and control of blood sugar fluctuations.

Woman giving herself an insulin injection

Lifestyle Medicine: A Shift in Diabetes Care

Lifestyle medicine represents a groundbreaking shift in diabetes management, focusing on holistic, evidence-based approaches that harness the body's natural healing abilities. By addressing the root causes of diabetes, lifestyle medicine emphasizes the importance of adopting healthier habits to prevent, manage, and, in some cases, even reverse the condition.


The 6 Pillars of Health in Diabetes Management

The 6 pillars of health forms the foundation for a comprehensive approach to managing diabetes. These pillars represent key aspects of your well-being, encompassing physical, mental, and emotional health.


Each pillar plays a vital role in maintaining balance and promoting overall wellness. Through a focus on balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, quality sleep, stress management, social connection, and mindful practices, you can effectively manage your diabetes.


1. Nutrition

Not all foods have the same impact on blood sugar and insulin. If you are diabetic you should focus on a plant-based, whole-foods diet rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This approach promotes stable blood sugar levels and supports overall health. Focus on minimizing processed foods, sugary beverages, and unhealthy fats.


2. Physical Activity

Regular exercise, consisting of aerobic activities, strength training, and flexibility exercises, improves insulin sensitivity and aids in weight management. Physical activity also enhances cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of complications.


3. Stress Management

Chronic stress contributes to insulin resistance. Stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises help maintain optimal blood sugar levels and improve overall well-being.


4. Quality Sleep

Prioritizing sufficient, high-quality sleep is vital. Lack of sleep disrupts hormones responsible for blood sugar regulation, making adequate rest a cornerstone of diabetes management.


5. Social Connections

Cultivating strong social support networks reduces stress and enhances emotional well-being. Positive relationships can motivate individuals to adhere to healthy habits, fostering long-term diabetes management.


6. Avoiding Harmful Substances

Eliminating tobacco and moderating alcohol consumption is crucial. Both substances negatively impact diabetes management, worsening complications and impairing overall health.


Image of holistic diabetes care

Conclusion

While conventional treatments focus on medication and standard guidelines, lifestyle medicine takes a more individualized, holistic approach, empowering you to make sustainable lifestyle changes that positively impact your overall health, not just diabetes management.


By incorporating these six pillars of health into daily life, you can significantly improve your diabetes outcomes. Scientific research consistently supports the efficacy of lifestyle medicine in managing diabetes, highlighting its potential to transform the lives of those affected. On World Diabetes Day, let's celebrate the progress made in diabetes care and continue to advocate for the widespread adoption of lifestyle medicine as a powerful tool in the fight against diabetes.


Extra Resources

If you want to take control of your diabetes with lifestyle medicine, I recommend the following tools:

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