Diabetes: A Hormonal Matter

The Link Between Diabetes and Hormones

By: Dr. Marissa Magsino

Diabetes is a very complex medical issue. It starts as a metabolic syndrome that is a combination of nutritional and hormonal imbalances. It’s important to correct these imbalances at an early stage, before pre-diabetes develops into full-fledged diabetes.

Diabetes in America
Diabetes is among the most serious illnesses in America – I would even go so far as to say it is the number one medical illness. It is becoming increasingly common and, with the current trends in obesity (which increases your risk of diabetes), it is developing much more often in younger people than ever before. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes – that’s 8.3% of the population – and, in 2010, 1.9 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people 20 years old and older.

Diabetes can lead to a number of other medical conditions – and even make them worse. This comorbidity of diabetes and other conditions has an extremely high impact on healthcare in America. It can lead to many complications and can impact your cardiovascular health, nervous system, mental health and more. It can even lead to congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and, if you have diabetes, you have 2 to 4 times the risk of dying from heart disease as someone who does not have diabetes. Stats from the ADA paint a clear picture: diabetes contributed to 231,404 deaths in the year 2007 alone.

The Hormone Link
Diabetes actually is, in a sense, a consequence of hormonal imbalance. It all starts with imbalances in the hormone insulin that lead to glucose intolerance. Glucose is created from the sugars and starches in the food you eat and insulin converts it into energy. However, when you have diabetes, your body either does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that your body does produce cannot do its job – this is known as insulin resistance. When this happens, the glucose levels in your blood elevate, leading to the many symptoms and complications of diabetes.

All of your hormones work together and affect each other, so imbalances of other hormones can lead to insulin imbalances or insulin resistance. This may be particularly evident around menopause. During perimenopause, your progesterone levels decline. This decline in progesterone affects your insulin metabolism and, as your progesterone levels become low, you develop a predisposition to glucose intolerance.

High levels of cortisol, which is produced by your adrenal glands in response to stress, can also lead to glucose intolerance. In fact, this can lead to an unhealthy cycle, because diabetes can affect your adrenals, causing them to produce more cortisol, which in turn can make your diabetes worse.

Managing Diabetes
Balancing your hormones is an important part of treating diabetes. There is a huge network of overlapping hormones in your body, each affecting the other. This network requires delicate balance and, if that balance is not maintained, your diabetes may become worse. That’s why your hormones have to be balanced in order to get an optimal response to diabetic therapy.

Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy, life-long diet, are also extremely important in the treatment of diabetes. It is essential that you understand proper nutrition – and especially the importance of avoiding any foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI). The GI is a tool used to measure how quickly sugars and starches in various foods increase your blood glucose levels.

Simple sugars, such as white flour or white bread, are particularly high on the glycemic index – avoid them at all costs. These refined sugars are converted directly to glucose. Other foods that are low in fiber and high in carbohydrates can also be problem. Processing can also increase a food’s GI, so it’s a good idea to focus on organic products. You should also avoid foods that are high in calories.

Supplements may also help. I frequently give patients supplements with cofactors that promote the proper metabolism of sugar in the body. For example, you can take supplements that block sugar absorption or block certain pathways that convert sugars into glucose. By enhancing your nutrition and using these supplements, we can increase your metabolic rate so that you are burning calories more quickly and efficiently and glucose doesn’t have a chance to reach high levels in your blood.

But healthy lifestyle habits go beyond proper nutrition. Frequent, regular exercise can also have a significant impact on the treatment of diabetes. It can help keep your glucose under control, assist in weight management and provide a wealth of other health benefits, such as improving your heart health, reducing stress, building muscle mass and strengthening your bones.

Weight Management
There is a direct link between diabetes and being overweight or obese. If you are in a pre-diabetic state, maintaining a healthy weight can keep you from developing full-fledged diabetes – and if you’re already diabetic, it can help with your treatment. Proper nutrition and exercise are obvious first steps to reaching and maintaining your ideal weight, but your hormones also play an important role. Your thyroid hormones are especially important for weight management. If your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, your metabolism slows down, which leads to weight gain. Treating hypothyroidism and balancing your hormones can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Take Charge
While you can treat your diabetes with hormone balance, proper nutrition and exercise, it’s far better to prevent the condition, in the first place, whenever possible. In my practice, I encounter many pre-diabetic patients who are not very tolerant of the amount of glucose they consume. If they continue on as they are, they have a high risk of developing full-fledged diabetes.

However, there are things that you can do to keep your pre-diabetes from progressing. In fact, the BodyLogicMD program is ideal for diabetes prevention. The physicians in the BodyLogicMD network are all highly-trained hormone experts who can guide you every step of the way on your path to optimal overall health through hormone balance, proper nutrition and fitness.

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