Natural Foods Merchandiser

Diabetes: help customers help themselves

If your supplements department does not have a diabetes section, it probably should. Millions of people already suffer from type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. And considering two-thirds of Americans are overweight, many more may be on their way toward developing the disease. Although nutrient deficiencies and lack of exercise contribute to onset of type 2 diabetes, the main culprit is food: the processed, refined and sugar-filled variety that most Americans consume with gusto. However, food can also serve as a remedy for this disease. Not only can a healthy diet help keep diabetes at bay, a few specific foods—which you already have on your shelves—can actually help stabilize blood sugar levels.

?There is some really compelling science showing a few foods and a number of supplements (see ?Help in a bottle,? page 34) can make a real difference when it comes to glucose tolerance and blood sugar,? says Jack Challem, author of a number of books including Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance (Wiley, 2001). Cross-merchandise these common grocery items with the expanding list of supplements to support the growing number of custumers with diabetes. Also consider providing copies of scientific studies, so consumers can better understand the research on their disease. As always, customers should check with their physician before using any nutrient or supplement.

Condiments that cure
Over the past few years, a number of studies have revealed that even common household condiments can serve as powerful diabetes fighters. For example, although apple cider vinegar has long been touted as a weight-loss aid, only recently has scientific evidence suggested why it might help take off pounds. According to research conducted by Carol S. Johnston and her colleagues at Arizona State University-Mesa, apple cider vinegar can reduce insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, conditions often related to excess weight, obesity and diabetes.

In the study published in Diabetes Care in 2004, three groups of subjects drank 20 grams of apple cider vinegar and then ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast of a white bagel, butter and orange juice. The groups consisted of 11 people with insulin resistance, 10 with type 2 diabetes and eight healthy controls. One week later the same subjects were given a placebo drink followed by the same high-carbohydrate breakfast.

On the whole, all three groups experienced smaller increases in glucose and insulin after drinking apple cider vinegar. Specifically, drinking apple cider vinegar improved post-meal insulin function by 34 percent in subjects with insulin resistance and 19 percent in those with diabetes.

The results were so dramatic that Johnston suggested vinegar might exert physiological effects on par with diabetes drugs such as metformin (marketed as Glucophage). Although more research is warranted, apple cider vinegar appears to be a promising tool in your customers? diabetes-fighting arsenal. Cinnamon is another common kitchen dweller that appears to have powerful diabetes-fighting properties. According to a number of studies including a 2003 trial published in Diabetes Care, cinnamon can help lower many of the disease?s markers.

In the study, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to one of six groups. Three groups consumed 1, 3 or 6 grams of cinnamon daily, and the other groups were given placebo capsules. All the groups continued eating their usual diet and continued taking their diabetes medication.

After the 40-day trial and a subsequent 20-day washout period, the results showed all three doses of cinnamon significantly lowered glucose levels as well as triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and total cholesterol. There were no significant changes in the placebo groups. ?These results are just a reminder of how healthy some individual foods and condiments can be,? says Challem, who sprinkles cinnamon on his fruit salad each morning. Simply adding between 1/4 and one full teaspoon of cinnamon to foods like oatmeal and roasted squash can help keep blood-sugar levels in check. And if your customers don?t like the taste of the spice, or if cinnamon just doesn?t go with what they are eating, let them know cinnamon supplements can potentially deliver the same results.

A study published in 2004 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry says that what researchers found to be the active portion of cinnamon showed ?insulin-like biological activity.? The lead researcher on that study, Richard A. Anderson, Ph.D., is now a consultant with Sarasota, Fla,-based Integrity Nutraceuticals International, which markets Cinnulin PF, a patented cinnamon extract.

Linda Knittel is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer.

Guide customers to better food choices

According to Jack Challem, author and health advocate, ?People have to start with the core issue, which is their daily diet.?

Here are some general dietary recommendations to treat and prevent type 2 diabetes:
  • Start by minimizing sugar, refined carbohydrates and foods that act like sugar in the body such as potatoes, certain fruits (such as bananas or dried fruits) and some grains (such as white rice and refined grains).
  • Eat plenty of lean protein from fish and chicken.
  • Eat lots of high-fiber nonstarchy vegetables that help stabilize blood sugar (such as greens, zucchini, peppers, summer squash, celery, broccoli and cauliflower).

?Sure, certain supplements and foods can change the body?s biochemistry, but if the overall diet is bad, the effects of the supplements will be overshadowed,? Challem says.


Help in a bottle
The list of supplements said to combat diabetes seems to be growing daily. And while many of these vitamins, minerals and herbs may indeed prove beneficial in battling the disease, for some the science is still accumulating. The short list below contains a few nutrients whose benefits are clear. You can feel good about directing your customers to these products.

Alpha-lipoic acid
Besides being one of the most powerful antioxidants, alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood-sugar levels. Recent research has also indicated that alpha-lipoic acid may curb cravings and aid in weight loss.

Carnitine and Co-Q10
These two nutrients work together in the mitochondria to help burn glucose and fats for energy. Studies have shown carnitine supplementation can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in diabetics.

Chromium is a mineral that appears to improve glucose tolerance by increasing the body?s sensitivity to insulin. In addition, chromium can calm the appetite by stabilizing blood sugar. Many studies and experts recommend the picolinate form.

Fish oil
A number of studies have shown fish oil supplementation improves glucose tolerance and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol in healthy people and those with diabetes. Fatty acids can help prevent inflammation, one of the underpinnings of diabetes.

Many people with diabetes tend to be magnesium-deficient, and supplementation with this nutrient has been shown to improve insulin production. A 400-milligram daily dose of the citrate form is often recommended.

Derived from the herb milk thistle (Silybum marianum), silymarin is an antioxidant flavonoid complex. In addition to working as a liver tonic, silymarin has been shown to reduce insulin resistance. In fact, silymarin has been shown to improve all markers of glucose tolerance even in very ill diabetic patients.

The vanadyl sulfate form of vanadium appears to improve glucose tolerance and decrease fasting blood sugar in type 2 diabetics. At high doses (300 mg per day) total cholesterol is also reduced, but along with it comes a reduction in protective high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The long-term safety of taking large amounts of vanadium is still being considered.


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 11/p. 30, 33-34

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