The prevalence of diabetes has hit an all time high, with currently more than 500 million prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes worldwide (1). It was determined in 2015 that diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States (2). With statistics like these, it’s no wonder people are researching ways on how to reverse diabetes naturally.
When not managed properly, type 2 diabetes can lead to kidney disease, blindness, leg and foot amputations, hearing impairment, skin conditions, nerve damage and even death (3). But what many do not know, or are not told by their doctors, is that type 2 diabetes is a completely preventable and reversible condition. All it takes is a little diet and lifestyle change.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either cannot produce insulin, or it cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas, that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood (3).
Under normal circumstances, insulin is released by the pancreas to help with the storage of sugar and fats. But when someone has diabetes, insulin doesn’t work as it should, leading to high blood sugar levels and diabetes symptoms.
It is important to note that there are major differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Here’s a short explanation of how each type works.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little to no insulin. This happens because the immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (called islets of Langerhans) (4). Once the pancreatic cells are damaged, insulin can no longer be created (or there is a reduced ability to create insulin).
While type 1 diabetes is rarely reversed, blood sugar levels can be improved with the right dietary modifications. As a result, individuals with type 1 diabetes don’t have to depend on their insulin and medications as frequently as they’d have to without changes to their lifestyle.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, mainly because it is caused as a direct result of diet and lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which means that the body doesn’t respond properly when insulin is released (5). As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, leading to high blood sugar. While the body can keep up for a short period of time by producing more insulin, longer-term, chronic high blood sugar leads to a burn out of insulin receptor sites.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, type 2 diabetes usually develops because of the following contributing factors (6):
– Physical inactivity
– Poor diet
– Being overweight
– Having high levels of inflammation in the body
– Family history of diabetes
– Hormonal problems like Cushing’s syndrome, acromegaly and hyperthyroidism
– Exposure to toxins, viruses of harmful chemicals
– Taking medications that disrupt insulin production
Whatever the contributing factor, learning how to reverse diabetes naturally will not only help get rid of the symptoms associated with diabetes, but it will also improve other aspects of your health as well.
What is Causing the Diabetes Epidemic?
Before we get into how to reverse diabetes naturally, I first want to talk a little bit about what is causing the diabetes epidemic. Let’s start with the most obvious cause – diet.
The average American consumes over 156 pounds of added sugar in a year – that’s 17 times more than what we ate 200 years ago. Processed foods, rich in carbohydrates and chemicals add to the refined sugar burden.
But it’s not just refined sugar causing the problem – it’s fat, too. Especially the combination of high fat and high sugar foods like cookies, cakes, donuts, pastries, etc.
According to Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts.org:
“Lower the level of fat in people’s blood and the insulin resistance comes right down. If we clear the fat out of the blood, we also clear the sugar out. That explains the finding that on the high fat, ketogenic diet, insulin doesn’t work very well. Our bodies become insulin resistant. But as the amount of fat in our diet test lower and lower, insulin works better and better — a clear demonstration that the sugar tolerance of even healthy individuals can be impaired by administering a low-carb, high-fat diet. We can decrease insulin resistance, however, by decreasing fat intake.”
We’ll touch more on diet in the 10 steps I’ve outlined below.
10 Steps on How to Reverse Diabetes Naturally
Knowing that type 2 diabetes is an acquired condition, makes treating, preventing, and curing it, that much easier. Here are 10 steps on how to reverse diabetes naturally.
1. Remove Refined Sugar from Your Diet
While the opinion that sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes, that doesn’t mean you should start drinking all the soda’s and candy bars you can imagine. Most of the processed foods out there (whether that be donuts, candy bars, etc.) contain plenty of refined sugar, refined grains, as well as fats from oils or lard. Consuming such foods will raise the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase the levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines (7). Chronic inflammation is not only a trigger for the development of insulin resistance (the main cause of type 2 diabetes), but it also leads to illnesses like hypertension, depression, and neurodegenerative disease.
Most type 2 diabetics are also instructed to avoid the healthy sugars found in fresh fruit. This is terrible advice, given fruit intake is more protective than anything. In a recent and massive study of over 500,000 subjects followed over 7 years, researchers found that the more frequently subjects ate fruit, the lower was their risk of developing type 2 diabetes (8). The lead researcher stated that “the sugar in fruit is not the same as the sugar in manufactured foods.”
2. Lower the Amount and Type of Fat You Eat
What many diabetics aren’t aware of, is that it is the fat that is the problem when it comes to type 2 diabetes. Nearly 100 years ago, healthy volunteers were split into two groups – half were fed a fat-rich diet, and the other half on a carb-rich diet. Within just two days, the fatty diet groups’ glucose intolerance skyrocketed to amounts twice as high as those fed a carbohydrate-rich diet (9).
Insulin allows sugar in our blood to enter our cells. When insulin attaches to the insulin receptor, it activates a series of enzymatic reactions, which ends with active glucose transport (a gateway for glucose to enter the cell). If our insulin receptors are covered in fat, we end up with high blood sugar, because insulin can’t enter our cells. This is called insulin resistance. This fat is called intramyocellular lipid, or fat inside our muscle cells (10).
The mechanism by which fat (specifically saturated fat) induces insulin resistance wasn’t discovered until MRI techniques were developed to see what was actually happening inside the muscle cells as fat is infused into the blood stream.
Studies since shown that the accumulation of fat droplets, and not carbohydrate stores in the liver and muscle cells, contributes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. These droplets result from raising levels of saturated animal fats in the blood, like those found in chicken, beef, cheese, dairy and fish. One hit of saturated animal fat can start causing insulin resistance, inhibiting glucose uptake after just 160 minutes (11).
Even plant-based fats in excess can have the same effect, but the amount of plant-based fats consumed generally isn’t as high as what we see with individuals consuming saturated animal fat.
Choose your fat from a clean, plant-based source like avocado, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as nuts. Remember, everything in moderation.
3. Get the Right Nutrients
Eating real, whole food, is a great place to start when trying to reverse diabetes naturally. Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit of different colors helps reduce inflammation, and increases the amount of fiber you’re getting, which also helps regulate blood sugar (aim for about 30-40 grams of fiber daily).
Eating magnesium-rich foods like cacao, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and swiss chard can also help your body metabolize glucose properly (12). Unfortunately, a lot of the foods we eat are low in magnesium, thanks to poor farming practices and stripping the soil of minerals over the years, so taking a magnesium supplement never hurts! I recommend a magnesium glycinate supplement to ensure it absorbs properly.
Another essential nutrient that is involved in normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism is chromium. It plays an important role in insulin pathways, and helps bring glucose into our cells so that it can be used for energy. It also helps balance out blood glucose levels by improving the glucose tolerance factor in your body (13). Broccoli contains very high levels of chromium, and is one of the best sources, but foods like green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and oats also contain decent amounts.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant that helps turn glucose into fuel for the body. It improves insulin sensitivity and also reduces symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
While ALA is found naturally in some food sources like walnuts, flaxseeds, spinach, broccoli and potatoes, it doesn’t produce a noticeable increase in the levels of free ALA in the body.
Taking an ALA supplement will increase the amount that circulates in your body, which can be beneficial when trying to naturally reverse diabetes (14).
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with a range of serious disease like cancer and type 2 diabetes (15). Studies have also suggested that low vitamin D also contributes to insulin resistance (16). While I always recommend getting your vitamin D from the sun, if you live in more Northern climates, you’ll need to supplement with vitamin D3 during the winter months to keep your levels up!
4. Avoid Gluten and Dairy
Gluten-containing grains like wheat can cause high levels of inflammation in the body, particularly the intestinal tract. When the gastrointestinal tract is inflamed, cortisol and leptin are interfered with, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar. Instead, opt for organic versions of pseudo-grains like buckwheat, sorghum, teff, quinoa, and wild rice. If you must eat wheat or other gluten-containing grains, please make sure they are organic and sprouted to avoid glyphosate contamination and improve digestibility.
Dairy is another food you want to be weary of. Aside from being high in saturated fat (which can spike blood sugar levels – see point number two above), the protein in dairy (casein) harms the body, and triggers a similar inflammatory immune response as gluten. Thankfully, there are plenty of dairy alternatives out there, like plant-based milks, yogurts and cheeses.
5. Stop Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is another big no-no for diabetics. Alcohol raises blood sugar to dangerously high levels, especially in the case of beer, coolers, liqueurs, and mixes that contain soda. One study found a 43% increased incidence of diabetes associated with “heavy alcohol consumption,” which they defined as three or more drinks a day (17).
6. Herbal and Dietary Supplements
Eating foods that help manage blood glucose levels can also help those with type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon is particularly great for reducing fasting glucose levels, as well as reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol (18). This makes it an ideal food to prevent blood sugar spikes.
Bitter Melon, or bitter gourd, is widely recognized for its medicinal properties regarding blood sugar management for diabetics. It helps stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, and regulates the body’s use of it. Studies have shown that bitter melon extract can reduce and mange symptoms of diabetes, including insulin resistance, kidney damage, blood vessel damage and hormone irregularities (19).
Turmeric is another great herb to supplement with, whether that is in capsule, tincture, or powdered form. Turmeric helps lower levels of inflammation in the body, which, when not controlled, can trigger insulin resistance.
7. Exercise Regularly
Getting enough regular exercise can improve your health and regulate blood sugar levels. You don’t need to go to the gym for hours on end – even 30 minutes a day of walking is enough to help manage symptoms of diabetes. Stretching or doing yoga is also a great way to move the body. If you’re able, you can do high intensity interval training (HIIT) or weight training a couple days a week to help your body burn more fat and naturally increase insulin sensitivity.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on all systems in the body. According to Mark Mahowald, MD, “there is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to a pre-diabetic state.” Sleep loss disrupts glucose metabolism, leading to reduced insulin sensitivity and glucose intolerance. This can eventually lead to diabetes, if consistently elevated.
If you’re having troubles sleeping, try winding down before bed by putting down all electronics at least 1-2 hours before sleep. Blue light can mess with melatonin production (the chemical that helps us sleep), making us a little more restless at night. Herbal teas, essential oils, warm baths, and a little bit of nutmeg can also help you get more shut-eye.
9. Control Your Stress
Chronic stress does a number to our hormones, including insulin. Stress hormones increase the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body (20), which is a major contributing factor to diabetes (as well as a host of other diseases). Stress can sometimes lead individuals to over-eat, too, which can exacerbate the problem.
Try to control your stress through meditation, yoga, social interaction, making art, listening to music, or simply going for a walk in nature. Essential oils like lavender are also useful in reducing stress levels.
10. Lower Chemical Exposure
Other culprits thought to be a major contribution to diabetes are chemicals found in the environment, as well as in products we use daily. Certain chemicals increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, while others contribute to obesity and weight gain. Obesity and weight gain, as you might now know, are serious risk factors in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Studies have found links between certain chemicals like phthalates and BPA, as well as PCBs, dioxins and their relationship to diabetes. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that women with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine had a 70 percent higher risk of diabetes than women with the lowest levels of phthalates circulating in their bodies (21).
Detoxing your home of chemicals is a great way to help reverse or reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. It will also reduce your risk of developing life-threatening diseases like cancer.
Here are some products you should re-consider making or purchasing out of natural products, or ditching altogether:
– Pesticides and herbicides (those used on food, and those used for lawn care)
– Laundry detergent
– Dryer sheets
– Fabric softeners
– Dish soap
– Paint (used on your walls, or for arts & crafts)
– Tap water
– Air fresheners
– Cigarette smoke (first, second and third-hand)
– Scented candles
– Lotions and serums
– Household cleaners
– Soap and other toiletries
– Perfumes, colognes and body sprays
– Processed foods
– Mercury from fish
– Gasoline vapors (exposed to more in the city)
– Hair and nail salons
– Bug sprays
– Plastic storage containers
– Mattresses made with toxic materials like PBDE
– Plastic drink bottles
– Non-stick cookware
– Dry-cleaned clothes