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Diet and Exercise Can Help You Manage Diabetes

Many people can manage diabetes that appears later in life through careful attention to what they eat and their physical activity.
Diet and Exercise Can Help You Manage Diabetes
Close up man checking blood on sugar level. Home medical test. Concept of blood sugar level testing. Glucometer and test stripe. Glycemia, diabetes. Step by step instruction. Step 4

Being told you have a chronic health problem like type 2 diabetes can be frightening. It often triggers a cascade of prescriptions intended to manage diabetes and keep blood sugar under control.

Using Diet and Exercise Against Diabetes:

What if, instead, doctors steered patients to experts that could help them change their lifestyle? The usual response from physicians is that patients aren’t willing to make the necessary adjustments.

However, when they do, the results can be spectacular, as this reader recounts.

“My husband’s blood sugar level had been slowly rising as the years passed. Statins seemed to aggravate the situation. When he turned 60, an HbA1c result of 6.5 revealed he had type 2 diabetes. He discontinued the statins, but his A1c stubbornly remained at 6.5. He was alarmed, as my sister had just died from kidney failure caused by poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.

“We decided, rather than start on glyburide (which was the recommended course of action), to try a high-protein, lower-carb diet, exercise and weight loss. I took diabetes education classes with him, reasoning that since I prepared our meals, I’d better know what to do. The dietitians recommended he limit himself to 60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal with 15 carb snacks between meals to control his episodes of hypoglycemia.

“For the first six months, we measured and weighed every carb he put into his mouth. I composed a lower carb, high protein dietary plan (I’m a retired nurse) for all of his favorite meals.

The Results:

“Two years later, he had lost 20 pounds and his doctors were amazed. His A1c levels began steadily dropping and settled at the upper end of the normal range. They have stabilized at 5.6 – 5.7.

“He no longer has the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Instead, he completely reversed it through diet and exercise. Now he doesn’t exercise quite as regularly as he used to, but he has stuck to the diet. What’s more, he can estimate how much he can eat of a higher carb item just by looking at it. All we know is that it worked, and at this time it’s not particularly difficult to stick with.

“During those first six months, he weaned himself off sugar. He decided it was better to re-educate his taste buds than attempt to placate his sweet tooth by using artificially sweetened products. That part took some self-control, but after six months, he no longer craved sugar. In fact, naturally sweet items, such as a navel orange, taste very sweet to him now.

“He’s retiring soon and looks forward to continuing a daily exercise routine. If more people took their initial diagnosis seriously and changed their dietary and exercise habits as promptly as my husband did, perhaps this country could reverse the trend of rising adult-onset diabetes. The secret is not to ignore your symptoms or lab work. To manage diabetes, you need to do what makes your body stay healthy. It’s so worth it in the long run!”

How You Can Manage Diabetes Too:

We applaud this reader and her husband. Exercise, diet and behavior modification are essential if you want to manage diabetes well (Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, July 2017).

Statins can make it more challenging to control blood sugar. So can some standard diets that are high in carbohydrates. Although experts have not achieved consensus on the most appropriate eating plan for people with type 2 diabetes, a recent meta-analysis shows that a high-fat low-carb diet can be helpful (Nutrition & Diabetes, Nov. 30, 2020). Medications can lower blood sugar if diet and exercise alone are not effective.

Learn More:

For people who would like to learn more about natural approaches to managing blood sugar, we offer our eGuide to Preventing and Treating Diabetes. Our interview with endocrinologist Kasia Lipska of the Yale School of Medicine also has a great deal of useful information to help you manage diabetes. It is Show 1173: How Is Diabetes Diagnosed and Treated?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Kirwan JP et al, "The essential role of exercise in the management of type 2 diabetes." Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, July 2017. DOI: 10.3949/ccjm.84.s1.03
  • Yuan X et al, "Effect of the ketogenic diet on glycemic control, insulin resistance, and lipid metabolism in patients with T2DM: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Nutrition & Diabetes, Nov. 30, 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41387-020-00142-z
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