A study published in the journal Nutrients described type 2 diabetes prevalence as reaching pandemic levels, as over 400 million people worldwide have the condition. The disease rate does not seem to be improving, as researchers estimate that number to jump to 700 million by 2045. As the seventh leading cause of death, type 2 diabetes is a significant health issue in the United States. This article will discuss what type 2 diabetes is, including its symptoms and causes. We'll then discuss functional medicine testing and treatment options for type 2 diabetes.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
In order to understand what type 2 diabetes is, we must understand basic blood sugar physiology. When we eat sugar, our bodies break it down into various molecules, glucose being one of them. In response to glucose, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Insulin is like the taxi for glucose, taking it to the cell where it will enter and be converted into energy. In type 2 diabetes, cells become insulin resistant, meaning they do not allow the glucose that the insulin is carrying inside. This process results in high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream. Because of this, type 2 diabetes can lead to heart, kidney, and liver disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathies (numbness in the limbs), and retinopathies (eye problems). Type 2 diabetes will also increase the risk of infections.
Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms
- Blurred vision
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Frequent urination
- Frequent infections
- Tingling and numbness in the hands and/or feet
- Slow wound healing
- Areas of dark skin
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is generally caused by a combination of genetic and several lifestyle factors.
Diet plays a role in the etiology of type 2 diabetes. Diets high in processed foods, refined sugar, and unhealthy fats can lead to type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a diet lacking essential nutrients such as inositol, zinc, chromium, magnesium, and vitamin D can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, as these nutrients can influence insulin sensitivity. Lack of exercise or activity and being overweight or obese can increase the risk of insulin resistance and thus are also major contributing factors to type 2 diabetes.
The body's circadian rhythm is our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm, including sleep problems, have been linked to type 2 diabetes as the circadian rhythm has been shown to coordinate glucose metabolism.
Genetic & Hereditary Factors
Individuals who have a family history of type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Additionally, certain ethnicities, including Native Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and those of Hispanic descent, are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Root Cause of Type 2 Diabetes
The following functional medicine labs can help to diagnose type 2 diabetes and assess the various root causes contributing to type 2 diabetes.
Certain lab companies offer diabetic panels that include many markers relating to type 2 diabetes. One such panel is the Diabetes Panel by Vibrant Health. This panel has six markers, including glucose, insulin, and hemoglobin A1C (Hba1c), an average of glucose levels over the prior three months, which are all beneficial for diagnosing and monitoring type 2 diabetes.
As discussed above, micronutrients, including inositol, magnesium, vitamin D, and chromium, can play a role in developing type 2 diabetes. A micronutrient panel such as the Spectracell Micronutrient Test will give levels of these micronutrients and many others.
Circadian Rhythm Testing
Cortisol and melatonin are the two primary circadian hormones. Cortisol can be referred to as the daytime hormone, and melatonin is the nighttime hormone. The Sleep and Stress Panel by Ayumetrix is an excellent choice to evaluate circadian rhythm. The panel has multiple cortisol and melatonin readings, which will help assess if the circadian rhythm is causing or exacerbating type 2 diabetes.
Additional Labs to Check When Checking For Type 2 Diabetes
Oral glucose tolerance tests measure glucose levels before and after drinking a beverage high in sugar. These tests can help the provider evaluate how the body processes glucose. A liver panel, such as the BioReference Laboratories Liver Panel, and a cholesterol panel, such as the Boston Heart Diagnostics Basic Lipid Panel, will often be checked when checking for type 2 diabetes, as high glucose levels can affect these markers as well.
Continuous glucose monitors give you real-time feedback on glucose levels. They can be instrumental not only in diagnosing type 2 diabetes but also in recognizing foods that may cause spikes in blood sugar.
Functional Medicine Approach to Natural Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes
A functional medicine approach to type 2 diabetes involves diet and lifestyle changes, specific herbs and supplements, and some complementary and integrative therapies.
Since circadian rhythm can play a role in type 2 diabetes, healthy bedtime hygiene should be discussed with patients. This includes limiting light from electronics such as phones, TVs, and household lights before bedtime to allow for proper melatonin production. Getting sufficient sunlight in the morning can also help to support the cortisol awakening response (CAR), which can set the tone for the circadian rhythm.
Regular physical exercise and movement can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30-50%. Exercise does not have to be rigorous; walking for 15 minutes after meals can help to reduce glucose levels.
The American Diabetes Association recommended the Diabetic Plate Method for those with type 2 diabetes. This method includes filling half the plate with a non-starchy vegetable such as broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, green beans, peppers, tomatoes, salad greens, snow peas, cauliflower, celery, and eggplant. One-quarter of the plate should be lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, shellfish, lean beef, and lean pork cuts. Plant proteins include beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, nuts, and nut butters. The last quarter of the plate should be filled with carbohydrates, including starchy veggies such as squash, green peas, potatoes, and pumpkin; fruits and dried fruits; dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and milk substitutes; whole grains such as brown rice, polenta, popcorn, oatmeal, oats, quinoa, and other whole grain products including pasta and bread.
Supplements and Herbs That Help Type 2 Diabetes
The supplements and herbs discussed below are evidence-based and show promising results for assisting in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Curcumin is an extract from turmeric, a well-known spice. Curcumin has been studied in people with prediabetes and those with type 2 diabetes. In one study, 240 prediabetic people were separated into two groups. One group received 250 mg of curcumin; the other group received a placebo. After nine months, none of the participants in the curcumin group progressed to type 2 diabetes, differing significantly from the placebo group, in which over 16% progressed to type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies on people with type 2 diabetes showed significant reductions in blood sugar levels and hunger-related hormones with the use of curcumin.
Berberine is a plant extract that's been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-obesity, cholesterol, and blood sugar-lowering effects. A review in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity assessed 38 studies on berberine in treating type 2 diabetes and four studies evaluating its effects on prediabetes. Over 4,000 participants were included in the trials, which ranged from four weeks to six months. Most studies compared berberine to a placebo, while some compared berberine to the commonly prescribed diabetic drug Metformin. After assessing the studies, the authors concluded that berberine could significantly improve glucose and cholesterol levels as well as inflammatory markers when given either by itself or in combination with Metformin.
Inositols are compounds that our bodies make but are also found in fruits, grains, and nuts. There are two primary forms of inositol, myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol. Both have been shown to reduce glucose and Hba1c levels.
Acupuncture and The Management of Type 2 Diabetes
Acupuncture, a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine, may be included in a functional medicine approach to diabetes. This therapy has been shown to reduce blood glucose and Hba1c levels in diabetic patients.
Type 2 diabetes is a significant health condition continuing to trend upward in prevalence. Functional medicine testing will divulge the root cause of type 2 diabetes, creating the opportunity for a personalized, targeted treatment plan, including diet and supplement recommendations.