An integrative medicine approach to diabetes
Updated: Feb 14
Traditional diabetes care management often focuses solely on the management of blood sugar levels and the prevention of complications. This typically involves regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, adjustment of medication doses, and management of any complications that arise.
In contrast, the integrated medicine approach to diabetes management takes a holistic view of the patient's overall health and well-being. This approach recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, mental, and emotional health and seeks to address all of these aspects in order to improve the patient's quality of life.
The integrated medicine approach also incorporates a wider range of treatments, including both conventional and alternative therapies. This allows for a more personalized approach to treatment, as the doctor can tailor the treatment plan to the individual's unique needs and circumstances.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This means that the body is unable to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, and as a result, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections to control their blood sugar. The peak age for being diagnosed with type 1 is 14 years old.
In type 2 diabetes, the body's cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, which means that the body must produce more insulin in order to keep blood sugar levels under control. The peak age of diagnosis is 45.
In general, type 1 diabetes is considered to be an autoimmune disorder, while type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. The integrative medicine approach to diabetes focuses on treating and reversing type 2 diabetes, but it also addresses the underlying problem of insulin resistance generally.
This problem is more widespread than you would think, and insulin resistance can show up in blood tests decades before an actual diagnosis of diabetes is made. A study published last year in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that nearly 40 percent of young adults have insulin resistance, raising the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
The integrative medicine approach
Both traditional and integrative medicine approaches emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes, such as changes to diet and exercise, in the management of diabetes. An integrative medicine doctor will work with the patient to develop a personalized treatment plan that takes into account the patient's unique needs and circumstances. This plan may involve a combination of lifestyle changes, such as changes to diet and exercise, as well as medication and other treatments.
In terms of diet, an integrative medicine doctor will likely recommend a healthy, balanced diet that is low in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats or cheeses. At Dignity Integrative, we often recommend a version of the elimination diet, temporarily abstaining from certain foods, especially processed foods, in order to begin to diagnose problems related to your gut health. Typically a low glycemic regimen will help lessen glucose and insulin spikes.
Doing this can help to improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes. An integrative medicine doctor may also recommend incorporating more fiber-rich foods into the diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as healthy sources of protein, such as lean meats, fish, and legumes.
The importance of exercise in diabetes management
Exercise is another important aspect of diabetes management, for several reasons. First, physical activity can help to improve blood sugar control by increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin by driving more glucose into muscle cells. This means that the body is better able to use the insulin that is produced, helping to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
Exercise can also help to reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes, such as heart disease and nerve damage. Regular physical activity can help to improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improving circulation, thus reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In addition to its physical benefits, exercise can also improve mental and emotional well-being. Regular physical activity can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and can improve mood and overall quality of life.
By incorporating regular physical activity into a treatment plan, individuals with diabetes can improve their blood sugar control, reduce their risk of complications, and improve their overall health and well-being. Thus, an integrative medicine doctor will likely recommend regular physical activity to help improve blood sugar control and overall health. This could include activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling, as well as strength training to help build muscle and improve insulin sensitivity.
The doctor may also recommend incorporating stress-reducing activities, such as yoga or meditation, into the patient's routine to help manage stress and improve overall well-being.
The role of medication
In addition to lifestyle changes, an integrative medicine doctor may recommend medication to help manage diabetes. This could include insulin, which is a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy, or oral medications that help the body better use insulin or lower blood sugar levels. The doctor will carefully monitor the patient's response to medication and adjust the treatment plan as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.
In addition to conventional treatments, an integrative medicine doctor may also recommend alternative therapies to help manage diabetes. These could include acupuncture, which has been shown to improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of complications, or herbal remedies, such as bitter melon or cinnamon, which have been shown to have blood sugar-lowering effects. The doctor will carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of any alternative treatments and work with the patient to determine the best course of action.
Overall, an integrative medicine doctor takes a holistic approach to diabetes treatment, focusing on the individual's overall health and well-being. By incorporating lifestyle changes, medication, and alternative therapies, this type of doctor can help patients manage their diabetes and improve their quality of life.