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Diabetes is turning into a modern epidemic. According to the American Diabetes Association, roughly 8 percent of the American population has diabetes, about 25 million people. Only 18 million of these have been formally diagnosed. A staggering 57 million Americans are believed to be prediabetic. But a few lifestyle changes and some specific nutrients can do a tremendous job of reducing your risk.
Age, Gender, Genetics
Type 2 diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is the most common form of the disease. It occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin to convert glucose to energy or the cells do not respond to the insulin that is released.
When food is consumed, the body breaks down starches and sugars into glucose for cellular use. Insulin is the catalyst for transporting blood sugar into the cell to use as fuel. When blood glucose levels climb too high, diabetes can result. Once this happens, blood sugar control becomes difficult with resultant hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), weight gain and serious health risks.
You’re at increased risk for type 2 diabetes if you live a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight, are gaining in years, are male and have inherited a tendency to be diabetic. Type 2 diabetes is more common among African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian-Americans. This may be a result of socio-economic circumstances rather than genetics, studies suggest. In other words, in ethnically centered communities like these, there is generally less income, less access to healthcare and less opportunity for exercise like walking. There are often fewer neighborhood stores selling fresh whole food. All of these factors can place you at risk.
Telltale Signs Of Diabetes
There is a good chance that if you are older than 20 and live in the United States you either have Type 2 diabetes or are prediabetic. There are some telltale signs indicating you should have a checkup. These include:
- Unquenchable thirst.
- Constant hunger.
- Frequent urination.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Blurry vision.
- Chronic tiredness or exhaustion.
- Suffer from sleep apnea (interrupted breathing).
- Being overweight and/or obese.
- Fatigue after eating (sugar crash).
- Slow-healing bruises and infections.
What’s more, if you have type 2 diabetes, you are putting yourself at greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, blindness, dental issues, peripheral neuropathy and even lower-limb amputation.
The good news: Type 2 diabetes can be reversed and prevented naturally. And the flavonoids found in certain fruits may be the easiest way to do this.
Flavonoids Provide Protection
Over the years, several studies have been carried out on the supposed health benefits of flavonoids, a catchphrase for thousands of substances found in fruits and vegetables responsible for their colors. These pigments act as antioxidants.
According to the Feb. 22 online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a 2.5-decade study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that consuming more blueberries and apples correlates with a lower risk of diabetes.
The NIH-funded study followed the eating habits of 200,000 American adults for nearly 25 years, including how often they ate certain types of foods, what beverages they consumed and in what portion sizes.
At the onset of the study, none of the participants had diabetes. However, during the research period, more than 12,500 participants were diagnosed with the disease. This is important for tracking habits of those participants who did and did not get diabetes during the decades of the study.
According to An Pan, a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow, “People who ate a higher amount of blueberries or apples… tended to have a low risk of type 2 diabetes.” A study last year also showed a correlation between fruits rich in flavonoids and lower incidence of hypertension.
In neither case can the fruits themselves be singled out as the main reason for the lowered risk and decreased onset of either disease. In fact, fruit consumption lowering or preventing diabetes seems counterintuitive, since fruits are loaded with sugar. Yet, the new study indicates they play an important role.
In fact, those who consumed two or more servings of blueberries per week showed a stunning 23 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who ate only one serving per month or none at all. What’s more, those who consumed five or more apples per week saw a 23 percent reduction in risk compared to those who ate no apples.
These findings are impressive, especially in light of the fact that they take into account other factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes onset, like smoking, genetics, weight and amount of physical activity. In all, the results have led researchers to suggest that certain flavonoids, especially those found in blueberries and apples, “might be behind their possibly beneficial effect on diabetes risk.”
“We found consistent results… that apples and blueberries are beneficial for type II diabetes,” Pan said.
Flavonoids consumed with vitamin C are especially strong in their antioxidant protection. Flavonoids also act as natural anti-inflammatory agents as well as having antibiotic properties.
When it comes to weight loss, I always tell people never to juice their fruit. Drinking juice sends sugar straight into the bloodstream, which is bad for those who have diabetes or are prediabetic. Eating fruits slows the breakdown of the sugars because of the pectin and fiber in fruit. It was with this in mind that I was happy to read that Dr. Loren Greene of New York University told Reuters in response to the study, “It argues very nicely for the consumption of whole fruits rather than fruit juices.”
More Than Just Fruit
Diet alone will not prevent type 2 diabetes or reverse it. Other factors must also be controlled, including:
- Not smoking or stopping if you already smoke.
- Getting adequate sleep at night.
- Seeing a physician if you have sleep apnea for help correcting this problem.
- Reducing the amount of simple carbohydrates in your diet and replacing them with complex carbs from whole grain, vegetable and fruit sources.
- Reducing refined sugar and soft drink intake.
- Losing weight and keeping it off.
- Getting ample exercise several days per week, if not every day, in some form.
And, of course, eating plenty of apples and blueberries every week may reduce your risk by up to an additional 23 percent. When you put it all together, diet and exercise once again can be seen as the go-to health model.