Making Insulin Receptors Work

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The easiest way to correct diabetes-related disorders is to fix the main problem, insulin resistance. It has been found that regular exercise and a carefully constructed diet can actually correct most cases of insulin resistance.412 However, to achieve any benefit, such a program must be strictly followed: unfortunately, diabetics cannot afford the occasional lapses that someone with a normally functioning metabolism can.

Exercise increases glucose entry into muscles, and also lowers glucose levels. It also improves blood flow through tissues and organs, including the brain. Regular exercise can also reduce levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a powerful inflammatory cytokine in the muscles, remarkably improving muscle function and reducing muscle pain and weakness. There is some suspicion that TNF-alpha is increased in diabetics and may play a role in insulin resistance.413 N-acetyl L-cysteine, used to increase cellular glutathione levels, also decreases TNF-alpha levels, which may explain in part why diabetics show such significant improvement on NAC supplementation.

When tested in thirty-nine diabetics, CoQIO lowered blood glucose levels by 30-31 percent and ketone bodies from 30-59 percent, which demonstrate significantly improved metabolism. The supplement was especially effective in one patient who was poorly controlled on sixty units of insulin a day before receiving the CoQIO. The dose used in this study was 120 mg a day. It is important to stress that the benefits of CoQIO go far beyond correcting elevated glucose levels, since it also powerfully stimulates energy production, is a robust antioxidant, and is capable of increasing cellular glutathione levels.

Lowering levels of fats and simple sugars also improves insulin receptor function. N-6-type fats (omega-6) worsen diabetes, and N-3 fats (omega-3) improve diabetes. The N-6 fats include vegetable oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. Fish and flaxseed oils comprise the N-3 fat group. A cautionary note about flaxseed oil: in order to be converted to its healthy oil components, EPA and DHA, it must be converted by an enzyme called delta-desaturase. Some people lack a sufficient amount of this enzyme to make the conversion. High insulin levels also inhibit the enzyme.

A major defect found in diabetics is an abnormal fat content in cell membranes.414 One recent study of over 575 diabetics found a defect in their ability to incorporate polyunsaturated fatty acids into their cell membranes, especially omega-3-type fats. Human studies have shown that a high content of saturated fat in cell membranes significantly increases insulin resistance.

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to partially correct this membrane defect and improve insulin receptor function. We already know that GLA levels are low in diabetics, and recent studies indicate that supplementation is helpful for relieving peripheral neuropathy. GLA-rich primrose oil has shown promise in relieving diabetic neuropathy. Ounce for ounce, borage oil contains more GLA than primrose, and is less expensive, but studies have shown that it is not as effective as primrose for relieving diabetic neuropathy.

Chromium deficiency is linked to impaired glucose metabolism, impaired glucose clearance, a decrease in the number of insulin receptors, and a reduction in binding of glucose to those receptors. In addition, we see lowered HDL (the good cholesterol) levels, and an increase in total cholesterol and triglycerides—all factors that increase atherosclerosis. There is good evidence that chromium supplementation improves carbohydrate metabolism in diabetics.415 It is especially effective when there is a significant deficiency of the mineral.

We know that a diet high in refined grains and sugars increases chromium depletion. In fact, with high sugar intake, chromium loss in the urine can be increased by as much as 300 percent. Strenuous exercise, aging, pregnancy, poor absorption, infection, chronic steroid use, and trauma can all increase chromium loss.

Most commercial brands are available as chromium picolinate, even though the body uses a form called GTF-chromium. (GTF stands for glucose tolerance factor.) A debate rages over which form is the best. Personally, I favor the GTF form, since it is found naturally in our bodies, but good studies exist that support the efficacy of the picolinate form as well.

For example, one double-blind study conducted in China on three test groups with Type II diabetes found that those who took 500 ug of chromium twice daily for four months had lower blood sugars, and nearly normal glycosylated hemoglobin as compared to those on the placebo. Total cholesterol and insulin levels also fell.416

Other minerals also play an important role in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. For example, low dietary intake of copper in experimental animals can cause the pancreas to shrink (atrophy) and reduce insulin secretion.417 Another mineral, vanadium, has also been shown to act in many ways like insulin.418 The only problem with vanadium is that beneficial effects have been observed only near the toxic dose.

Zinc plays a major role in the synthesis, storage, release, and stability of insulin. Not surprisingly, zinc deficiency is very common in diabetics. When zinc intake is improved we see corresponding improvements in glucose levels and insulin function. Zinc is also a powerful inhibitor of free radicals and lipid peroxidation.419

Another area of interest is the hypoglycemic properties of many herbs and flavonoids. One review found that of the 295 traditionally used plants screened for anti-diabetic effects, 81 percent were found to be useful for this purpose. Over two hundred phytochemicals are known to produce a fall in blood sugar. Unfortunately, many of these are also toxic.

A methylhydroxy chalcone polymer of cinnamon extract has been shown to increase glucose metabolism by cells twenty times, while also improving capillary function. Other plant extracts with hypoglycemic effects include juniper berries, izui, Siberian and panax ginseng, cumin, curcumin, cucumber, garlic, and bottle gourd.

One of the more useful plants is Gymnema sylvestre (Gumar) which stimulates insulin secretion and lowers cholesterol and triglycerides with minimal side effects. A test on twenty-two type II diabetics found 400 mg per day to be superior to prescription medications for long-term blood-sugar stabilization and an overall sense of well-being.420

Korean ginseng (Panax), given at 200 mg per day for eight weeks to type II diabetics, improved mood, increased physical activity, and lowered fasting blood sugar as well as glycosated hemoglobin levels.421 The last effect is especially important, since glycosation of tissues is the leading cause of damage associated with diabetes. Onion and garlic extracts have also been shown to lower blood sugar, which may be due to the presence of thiosulfi-nates and dially disulfide.

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