Diabetes is a complex chronic condition affecting millions of people worldwide. The traditional approach to managing diabetes is solely focused on controlling blood sugar levels. However, relying solely on this metric for evaluating the effectiveness of diabetes management overlooks critical information. Managing diabetes means more than just regulating blood sugar levels, and that is where functional medicine comes in.
How does diabetes develop in the first place?
While genetics can play a role in the development of diabetes, lifestyle and environmental factors also significantly contribute to the increasing prevalence of this chronic condition. Today, the North American diet in particular, is rich in processed and high-carb foods, which have been linked to the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Many of the processed foods in the North American diet are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. These foods cause a rapid (vs. more gradual) spike in blood sugar, which triggers the release of insulin to regulate glucose levels. Over time, the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, but blood sugar levels remain elevated, leading to type 2 diabetes.
These dietary habits, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, has contributed to the rising prevalence of diabetes. By making lifestyle changes and adopting a whole-foods diet, we can reduce our risk of developing type 2 diabetes and reverse the condition in those who have already been diagnosed.
If you have diabetes, you probably orient your health around your blood sugar levels, trying to keep them as low as possible. According to medical professionals, blood sugar levels between 5.2-5.6 are considered non-diabetic, while levels above 6.4 signify diabetes.
However, it's crucial to understand that maintaining blood sugar levels between 5.2 and 6.4 doesn't mean your diabetes is under control. A Hemoglobin A1C test, which shows blood sugar levels over the last three months, is a more accurate measure of how well you are managing your diabetes. If you only see your doctor once a year or every six months, you may be missing out on this vital diagnostic tool.
Focusing solely on blood sugar control, rather than getting to the root cause of the problem, can lead to long-term health complications. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to your cardiovascular system, cellular dysfunction, brain dysfunction, and more. The longer you treat your diabetes ineffectively, only looking at blood sugar, the harder it will be to reverse the underlying condition.
Consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to a host of negative health consequences beyond diabetes itself. When blood sugar levels are elevated, it can cause damage to the body's blood vessels, nerves, and organs. Over time, this can lead to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Chronic inflammation can also cause damage to the body's cells, leading to cellular dysfunction and even cell death. This can result in problems with cognition, mood, and energy levels, among other things.
Furthermore, high blood sugar levels can lead to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are harmful compounds that contribute to oxidative stress and tissue damage in the body. AGEs have been linked to a range of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and neuropathy.
So, what's the solution?
The goal of functional medicine is to understand what's causing your body to malfunction and fail to regulate blood sugar levels correctly. Unlike traditional medicine, which focuses on the disease itself, functional medicine aims to identify the underlying cause of a condition and treat it. In the case of diabetes, this means working with a functional medicine practitioner to identify and address the root cause of your blood sugar regulation issues.
When you start healing the root cause of your diabetes, you are also treating the laundry list of other problems that often come with it. For example, high cholesterol and the need for other medications may improve as your body regains its natural ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Treating the cause, rather than the symptoms, can have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being.
Relying solely on blood sugar levels to manage diabetes is not enough. Regular Hemoglobin A1C testing, combined with functional medicine to identify and treat the underlying cause of blood sugar regulation issues, is a more effective approach to reversing diabetes. Taking this holistic approach can improve your overall health and well-being, and prevent long-term complications associated with diabetes. If you have diabetes, it's time to change your mindset and work with a functional medicine practitioner to address the root cause of your condition.