According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2006 there were 1.9 million Canadians diagnosed with diabetes. The number diagnosed rises each year.
It estimates that by the year 2016, the annual bill for treating diabetes will be eight billion dollars. But it is not only economic costs; diabetes also brings increase risks of heart disease, disabilities and premature death.
Those diagnosed with diabetes between the ages of 35-39 have a death rate six times greater than the general population.
Herbal medicine has lots to offer those with diabetes. It is important to begin with an understanding of the different types of diabetes.
Type One Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows the passage of glucose from the blood to the cells. Glucose is fuel for cells. Type One Diabetes appears at any age. It frequently strikes before the age of 30.
Because there is no insulin circulating in the blood, Type 1 diabetics rely on insulin injections to move glucose from their blood to their cells. Herbal medicine can help reduce blood sugar swings and ease complication in Type 1 Diabetes, but it will not replace insulin injections.
Type Two Diabetes is generally diagnosed in people over 60 years of age. The disease is, however, being seen in younger people, including children.
In Type Two Diabetes the pancreas produces insulin, but the cells do not respond to it. Many manage this chronic illness by eating balanced meals while avoiding foods high in sugar. Some develop the need for insulin injections. The exact cause of Type Two Diabetes is unknown. Many consider it an illness associated with lack of exercise, unhealthy food and stress.
In India, the recently adopted western diet has created a near epidemic of Type Two Diabetes.
Traditional Indian herbal medicine is being used to balance sugars. Researchers have sought out these local herbal treatments.
The most common formula is a mix of fenugreek (Triganelle foenum-graecum), bitter melon (Momordica charantia) and jambilina seeds (Sysyguim cumini). These combined herbs have shown to improve glucose uptake in Type Two Diabetes.
Devil’s club (Oplopana horridus), a huge prickly west coast herb, has been widely used by First Nations and BC herbalists to manage Type Two Diabetes. Although there are no clinical studies on this plant, it has is a long folk history.
Devil’s club eases the stress on the body caused by insulin resistant diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Devil’s club curbs cravings for sweets. This supports weight loss which is advantageous for those suffering with Type Two Diabetes. If going to the Vancouver Aquarium this summer, check out the Devil’s Club growing near the entrance.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) also improves glucose uptake for those with Type Two Diabetes. American ginseng reduces the effects of stress on blood sugars. Stress hormones, responding to a perceived need to fight or flight, pump glucose into the blood stream giving cells extra fuel to burn.
However, because of the sedentary nature of most lives, the sugar does not burn up in the cells. It just continues to coarse through the blood stream.
Think about flying down Hwy 2. This is definitely stressful, however only gas is burned not glucose. Note: American ginseng is an endangered plant. Check its source before using it. Some who sell endangered plants, ensure what is taken from nature is replaced.
Chromium is a trace mineral that increases the number of insulin receptors on cells. This encourages glucose uptake by cells. Because chromium is an inexpensive supplement and is very easy to take, I generally recommend beginning any attempt to balance blood sugars with it. I have seen it do amazing things.
A holistic approach also includes herbs that prevent or at least reduce complications associated with diabetes. Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) can reduce damage to the heart and blood vessels.
Wild oat seed (Avena sativa) and St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) ease damaged nerves. Herbs that support the reduction of cholesterol should also be consider as high cholesterol is frequently part of the big picture. This includes artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus) and turmeric (Curcuma longa).
Perhaps wise use of herbal medicine to help those with diabetes would reduce that 8 billion dollar bill.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.