1. What are health supplements beneficial for diabetics?
There are a few supplements that can lower blood glucose levels however, they should not replace a prescribed diabetic treatment from your physician. Furthermore, lowering blood sugar levels too low (hypoglycaemia) can lead to fatigue, dizziness and even coma as well. So do discuss with a healthcare professional before starting any herbal remedies.
Some studies on chromium supplements did indicate better glucose control, but mainly with those with already elevated blood glucose levels. Magnesium and fibre-rich foods did show some promise in lowering the risk of developing diabetes.
However, there are conflicting research reports on the efficacy of alpha-lipoic acid, cinnamon, vitamin D, selenium, bitter melon or iron intake in helping with blood glucose levels.
2. What are some long term strategies for managing the condition so that it doesn’t impede quality of life?
In addition to diet, regular exercise, medication compliance and concomitant disease management, there are some essential checks that can keep complications at bay.
When not feeling well, do check your blood sugar more frequently and if it is above 13.0 mmol/l, a urine ketone test may be warranted to detect diabetic ketoacidosis early and seek treatment.
Diabetics are usually unaware of any deterioration till the condition becomes severe. Thus, we generally recommend the following. Daily foot examinations should be done to spot small wounds and ulcers which should be treated carefully and observed till recovery due to slow healing rates. An eye examination should also be carried out annually.
3. Diabetics occasionally feel that the condition excludes them from certain active lifestyle and sporting activities. Is this a necessary worry?
With diabetes, exercise is crucial! Not only will regular exercise results in better blood glucose control, it may even decrease or eliminate the need for DM medications. Diabetics just need to be more careful during exercise sessions.
In order to exercise safely, always check your blood glucose (BG) is above 4.0 mmol/dl before exercising and recheck again periodically especially if the exercise lasts a few hours. Know the symptoms of hypoglycaemia, commonly manifested as tremors, fatigue, dizziness, hunger or a general sense of anxiety. Do carry around fast-acting chewable glucose tablets just in case your blood sugar plummets too fast. Generally, the rule is to take 15g of sugar (3 – 4 sweets) then wait for 15 minutes before measuring blood glucose (BG) levels. If BG is still below 4.0, repeat and re-measure.
Patients with complications such as DM-related eye damage should avoid too strenuous exercises as it may rupture weakened blood vessels in the eye. Those with nerve damage should avoid too repetitive exercises to prevent sores in areas with less or no sensitivity to pain.
4. How can family members of diabetics help support the patient’s daily lifestyle to manage the condition?
Diabetes Mellitus can be a life-altering diagnosis, not just for the patient but their loved ones too. The best way to start the battle with diabetes is to know your enemy. Staying informed would allow you to make practical choices for the patient and help monitor for signs of complications or hypoglycaemia if present. This is especially important if the patient is old or very young in the family.
Patients generally will have to make several huge diet and lifestyle changes. As family members, you will have the option of pacing out and adopting these changes yourself to make it feel like everyone is involved in the new healthier foods and programmes. Exercise is also more fun as a group with sports like badminton, basketball or cycling together. Goal-setting and celebrations when blood glucose targets are achieved can help the transition too.
Lastly, emotional support from family members can be crucial for a diabetic. Diabetes is a life-long disease and the reality of taking medications for life or doing insulin jabs daily from now onwards can be devastating to a child or young adult. Being there for their jabs or when they just need a listening ear is what family is for in such situations. Don’t overwhelm diabetics with textbook advice. Listen and customise plans to what you and the patient think will work for them best or consult with a healthcare professional for more advice.
5. Can the condition be fully treated over time?
Type 1 diabetes is not reversible.
Type 2 diabetes reflects a state where there is insufficient insulin or the body’s cells are resistant to its effects. It is very rare to recover insulin function fully back to pre-diabetic levels however, there are cases where people have managed to control their blood sugar levels to a point where they are able to safely go off medications. In such instances, they still need to adhere strictly to their lifestyle changes. These would include regular exercise, diet changes, weight loss and achieving good control of other metabolic diseases if any.
6. What would be a recommended holistic plan in managing the condition?
The primary goal for DM patients in preventing progression of the disease would be to implement diet changes to minimize blood glucose fluctuations as well as maintaining a healthy body weight. Furthermore, diabetics should stop smoking and control other medical conditions such as` high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These changes can delay organ deterioration as a whole too.
Having Diabetes doesn’t mean you have to slow down!
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