Herbal Medicine for Diabetes and Stress Relief

by Dr. Alexander Rinehart, DC, MS, CCN, CNS

Diabetes, stress, and obesity are already at the forefront of our 21st century health problems.

Two out of every three adults is overweight or obese (usually accompanied with some degree of insulin resistance) & one out of three children born after the year 2000 are expected to have non-insulin dependent diabetes later in life.

It’s not just an American problem,either. Diabetes is rapidly rising worldwide.

While the advice to sleep well, meditate, breathe deeply & “eat a balanced diet” are meant with the best of intentions by health practitioners, they can be impractical when you are feeling wired & anxious & not knowing who to turn to for advice.

Blood sugar and adrenal problems are closely linked. Doctors are finding it very difficult to balance one without also balancing the other. Show me an integrative physician, and I’ll show you a physician who works with stress on a daily basis.

1. Stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol released from the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys.
2. Cortisol can then cause insulin resistance.
3. Insulin resistance then leads to more cortisol.
4. Your body is becomes more concerned with its need for cortisol and compensates production of other hormones.
5. Bone, Liver, Gut, Thyroid, Brain & Cardiovascular Health can also be affected, both by alterations in hormones, but also due to the direct effects of high levels of cortisol, sugar and insulin in the blood.

You may begin to understand while natural remedies for stress and blood sugar balance are essential to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, supporting blood sugar and adrenal problems is increasingly a top priority for health professionals practicing integrative medicine.

Confusion Around Herbal Therapies for Health

It’s important to recognize that while herbs are helpful, they are just one piece of a greater picture of lifestyle. Taking herbs and then continuing to eat a Standard American Diet high in fat, sugar, salt, carbs and toxic man-made chemicals and preservatives is a recipe for disaster – not health.

Herbs work by coaxing the body back into balance – typically by “dialing up” or “dialing down” certain physiological processes. While some herbs work quite immediately, the effect is not as obvious as taking a pill and feeling pain relief twenty minutes later like our society is accustomed…

Because of how herbs work, in many cases, benefits can go beyond a single metabolic pathway or body system. Garlic can promote cardiovascular health, brain health, immune health, gut health, liver health, & help maintain blood sugar at healthy levels.

Herbs are grouped by general properties. While studies may show benefit for one herb in a group, many of the active constituents are shared among many plants. For instance adaptogenic herbs share properties that help you to “adapt” to stress. As we all vary in our genetic blueprint, some combinations may work better for you, than they would others. Herbs may also be grouped by their active chemicals. Berberine-containing herbs such as Goldenseal can promote a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut.

Some herbs are not only adaptogens, but also share other properties such as stimulating the immune system, or regulating bile flow – largely dependent on their active chemical constituents.

An experienced nutritionist or integrative physician can choose a combination that fits your unique health profile. While cookie-cutter treatments can be helpful to a broad sweep of the population, the true power of natural remedies comes with personalization.

Lifestyle tip: Quality of the herbs being used is also important. After herbs are pressed and processed for their active ingredients, the left-over matter is sometimes sold to cosmetic and shampoo companies. Despite using largely inactive ingredients, these companies can legally advertise that their products contain these herbs while charging you a premium!

Natural Herbal Remedies for Diabetes:

Some therapies with the most research support for Diabetes & related problems  include.

  • Green Tea
  • Pycnogenol (pine bark extract)
  • Bitter Melon
  • Fenugreek
  • Gymnema
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginseng (Panax & American)
  • Ginkgo
  • Bilberry
  • Plant sterols such as those found in Soy

These therapies help by improving insulin sensitivity, protecting against harmful free radicals,  improving lipid profiles (cholesterol & triglycerides), and enhancing circulation. Gymnema, for instance, has been shown to help lower blood sugar, decrease taste for sweets, & even regenerate damaged pancreatic cells in diabetic rats (Shanmugasundaram ERB, Leela Gopinath K, Shanmugasundaram KR, et al: Possible regeneration of the islets of Langerhans in streptozotocin diabetic rats fed Gymnema sylvestre leaf extracts. J Ethnopharmacol 30: 265-279, 1990).

Common Herbal Medicines for Natural Stress Management & Support:

  • Licorice
  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Holy Basil
  • Panax, American, Siberian Ginseng
  • Reishi Mushroom

These Adaptogenic herbs have been shown to help reduce the stress response as well as promote general hormone balance. To be labeled an adaptogen, an herb must 1.) be safe, 2.) must help reduce stress, and 3.)must have a dual-balancing effect no matter if a person’s response is “revved up” or “revved down”. These herbs are some of the most common herbs I use in my practice.

Hepatic & Bitter Herbs:

  • Goldenseal
  • Dandelion
  • Artichoke
  • Milk Thistle
  • Turmeric
  • Aloe

These herbs assist liver, bile, and digestive function, while also stimulating the endocrine system for action. The bitter taste on your tongue is actually a chemical signal that sets off a cascade of events that prepares your body for digestion. Milk Thistle contains the active chemical silybin, which has been shown to potect against lipid peroxidation – one of the main processes that can lead to atherosclerosis seen with diabetic patients. It also has been shown to help regenerate liver cells – especially important for diabetic patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Natural Diuretic Herbs:

  • Dandelion
  • Hawthorne
  • Parsley
  • Celery Seed
  • Pumpkin
  • Asparagus

Diuretic herbs also help assist detoxification and help the kidneys flush out wastes. Diabetics are at substantial risk for chronic kidney disease & cardiovascular problems. One of the early signs of diabetes is frequent urination. This is the body’s attempt at pulling water from everywhere it can so that it can flush out the excess sugar building up in the blood stream. Frequent urinary tract & yeast infections can be a sign of blood sugar imbalance. Yeasts like Candida feed off sugar. Diuretics may help prevent these toxins from building up in the kidney.

Natural Demulcents:

  • Licorice
  • Oat
  • Marshmallow
  • Flax
  • Slippery elm
  • Cornsilk

Demulcents are herbs that help protect & deflame the stomach and gut. Because one of the main causes of Diabetes is a Standard American Diet high in inflammatory grains, dairy, and red meat, stomach and gut inflammation are often experienced by diabetics. Demulcents help to “cool” down irritated tissue and often have a “gummy”, “mucousy” nature to them. Licorice, as deglycerized licorice, is commonly used to treat stomach ulcers AND assist with the stress response. Compounds in licorice may actually help you to utilize Cortisol – taking pressure off of the adrenals.

Hypnotic & Nervine herbs:

  • Hops
  • Chamomile
  • Passionflower
  • Valerian
  • Skullcap
  • Lavender
  • Kava
  • Lemon Balm

Hypnotic and nervine herbs help to calm you down. These herbs may help ease muscle tension, improve mood, and promote sleep and relaxation. When your adrenals are out of balance, sleep can be difficult to come. These herbs are often combined with one another. Sometimes herbs like valerian are also combined with melatonin to support sleep. Compounds from hops have now also been shown to help reduce pain & inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and promote healthy detoxification.

This information is made available by the author for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice. By accessing the site, you understand and acknowledge that there is no physician-patient relationship between you and the author. You further acknowledge your understanding that the site  should not be used as a substitue for competent medical advice from a licensed physician in your state.

 

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