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Home > Newsletters > October 2005 > Kick the Sugar Habit

Kick the Sugar Habit and Save Yourself From Diabetes With Chinese Medicine

By Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., D.O.M., Dipl. ABAAP

Throw out the candies and the cookies! Beware - the holidays are coming soon and so is the season for indulging in chocolates, cookies and pies. Itís the time when most people have trouble avoiding the most addictive substance known to mankind - sugar! Why is sugar so bad, you ask? Well, to start, let's talk about what happens to you as the sugar enters your body. When you consume simple sugars and refined carbohydrates (cookies, pastries made with refined flour), the pancreas is summoned to produce and release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that empties the sugar in your blood stream into all the tissues and cells for usage. In this case, the action is done too quickly, often inducing a condition in the aftermath called hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

Many people are familiar with the symptoms of hypoglycemia, which causes fatigue, shaking, sweats, difficulty concentrating, mood swings and increased allergy symptoms. The natural tendency for a person experiencing hypoglycemia is to eat more sugar or refined carbohydrate, but doing so will simply perpetuate the vicious circle. With blood sugar instability comes dysfunction of other organ systems. But the worst effect is felt in the pancreas, which has been burdened with constant demand for insulin production. At some point, it gives out when it is exhausted. As its function decreases, one's body is unable to uptake the sugar normally from the blood so the sugar level rises until it becomes damaging to healthy tissues. This results in diabetes. In Chinese medicine, it is called "Depletion and Thirst Syndrome."

There are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II. Type I is hereditary, which usually onsets in childhood or adolescence; therefore, it is also referred to as juvenile diabetes. Type II is acquired and is the result of failure of the pancreas due to lifestyle and diet factors. 95% of all diabetic have Type II. Type II diabetes is near epidemic proportion in America. Some 16 million Americans have the disease and 5 million of them do not know it! Excess sugar, in my opinion, is the main culprit among other obvious causes. Why should you fear diabetes? Well, to start with, it is a degenerative condition that literally "eats" away your body. Well-known complications from diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. Other problems include peripheral neuropathy that can eventually result in gangrene of the foot and possible amputation if infection is allowed to set in. Undetected kidney failure is not uncommon, as well as coronary heart disease. Skin conditions are also common, resulting in itching and infections. The list goes on, but the important thing for you to focus on is that even if you have Type II diabetes, there is still hope that you can reverse the disease and restore your health. It's never too late to start, as long as you follow some simple guidelines and make a commitment to follow through.

Step One

First of all, how do you prevent Type II diabetes? In Chinese medicine, the obvious first step is to stop eating refined sugar in any form. Reduce natural sugars like fruits, honey and maple syrup. Substitute refined flour with whole grain flour. Better yet, avoid wheat all together. It has the highest glycemic index of any grain, which means that it triggers the pancreas most easily. Brown rice, oats, buckwheat, millet, rye and barley are good alternatives. Eat regularly and don't skip meals. Try to incorporate some protein foods at each meal such as eggs, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and seeds. These foods take a longer time to digest and absorb, thereby slowly releasing sugar and nutrients into the blood stream. This is more preferable and results in a more stable and sustained blood sugar level without burning out the pancreas. If you are interested in exploring the therapeutic properties of each food you consume, I invite you to read my book, The Tao of Nutrition.

Step Two

Start a program of daily cardiovascular exercises of at least 20 minutes.
This is important because exercise "rebalances" glandular functions of the body and stimulates metabolism, thereby using up the excess sugar in the system and reducing excess energy storage (fat), not to mention the benefits to one's heart. If you are tired of jogging, biking or the treadmill, I invite you to explore Tai Chi or Qi Gong which can be done in a small space combining stretching, strengthening, balancing and tension releasing motions that are gentle and cardiovascular in nature.

Step Three

Start a stress reduction program.

What's stress got to do with it, you ask? Well, the answer lies in all that adrenaline produced during the stressful bouts of fight-flight, survival mode that gets turned on all too often these days. When the adrenaline is released from the adrenal gland when you are under mental pressure, it tells the pancreas to produce more insulin because the energy needs of the body will increase substantially during the supposed fight-or-run-for-your-life scenario. The bad news is that this scenario almost never plays out and the blood sugar drops like crazy, sending the body into hypoglycemia.

One of two things can happen from a prolonged survival mode. Your body will keep storing up excess sugar as fat and is asking for more energy from more sugar! This equals weight gain (an unpleasant side-effect of stress). Or all this nervousness and Herculean effort just continually depletes your body energy and its resources until the body eventually crumples under the overload, which leads to a nervous breakdown or system breakdown. The vicious circle repeats itself over and over again and people never seem to be able to get out of the rat race. I highly suggest a daily meditation program to "decompress" and release your tension. There are meditation classes you can take to learn the techniques. Oh, and one more thing: caffeine also stimulates adrenaline release. So, better give up the daily Starbucks cup and instead, go for the caffeine-free herbal teas that are also therapeutic.

Step Four

Last but not the least, go for annual check ups with your general practitioner. When discovered early, Type II diabetes can be treated effectively with the lifestyle changes that I mentioned above and with a course or two of acupuncture and herbal therapies to support the normal functions of the pancreas. The worst is that you have to give yourself insulin shots for the rest of your life! But promise me, let's not even get there!

This Month's Articles

October, 2005
Volume 3, Number 10

Getting Our Money's Worth?

Kick the Sugar Habit and Save Yourself from Diabetes with Chinese Medicine

Health Preservation & Rehabilitation after Childbirth

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor

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