Millions of people are diagnosed with diabetes, a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, explains Vaidya Ish Sharma (MD, Ayurveda). There are two main forms of diabetes: diabetes mellitus type 1 and diabetes mellitus type 2. In Type 1, the immune system begins attacking the pancreas. This auto-immune reaction leads to cellular destruction. The damage to β-cells of the pancreas begins to inhibit insulin production. Over time, the productive capacity of the pancreas dips to levels where it cannot make adequate insulin to control blood sugar.
Therefore, the person becomes susceptible to problems associated with high blood sugar. In Type 2, the excessive production of insulin over many years begins to exhaust the insulin receptors. Eventually, the normal cellular response to insulin is diminished, and the cells are unable to absorb sugar from the bloodstream to make energy. In either case, the goal is to avoid the spikes and troughs and maintain a balanced blood sugar level throughout the day. There are several ways to accomplish this goal.
First and foremost, it is essential to change one’s relationship with food. Considering the adverse effect of excessive triglycerides and obesity, healthy weight management is considered the primary intervention.
Choosing a healthy diet. Eating a diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and increasing the number of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber can help improve overall health while helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Eating cooked vegetables and incorporating spices such as cardamom, cumin, coriander, and turmeric may improve digestion and absorption. Certain foods such as eggs, organic lean meat, oysters, pomegranates, avocado, leafy green vegetables, and healthy oils (e.g., olive oil) stabilize blood sugar and foster heart health.
Eating small and regular meals. 4-5 small meals spread throughout the day can be helpful to minimize glucose load with each meal. Each meal should be balanced with an equal amount of proteins and carbohydrates.
Exercising 3-5 days per week. Exercise is an essential way to stimulate vitality, strength, and natural healing mechanisms of the human body. If you follow the Ayurvedic principle of balaardh, exercising to half your capacity, you can exercise every single day without straining your muscles. Research has demonstrated the positive effects of exercise on blood sugar. Exercises such as yoga cause contraction and relaxation of internal organs, thus improving circulation in and activity of these organs.
Deep breathing is a thermogenic activity, meaning it increases metabolism. This is evident by an enhanced digestive fire on every tissue level. In order to further enhance this effect and optimize metabolism, Ayurveda recommends incorporating fire breath into daily practice.
Ayurvedic herbs are also valuable to keep Vata in balance and help reduce sugar cravings. One of the most powerful herbs to help the body combat the desire for sugar is Gymnema Sylvestre. Gymnema, or gurmar in Hindi, is a woody climbing shrub that’s native to the tropical forests of India, Africa, and Australia. Its leaves have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. Gymnema has been the subject of considerable research since the 1930s, which revealed its effectiveness in supporting healthy blood sugar levels.
When consumed prior to a sugary food or beverage, Gymnema leaf extract, notably the peptide ‘gurmarin’, has been found to interfere with the ability of the taste buds on the tongue to taste sweet and bitter. It is believed that by inhibiting the sweet taste sensation, people taking it will limit their intake of sweet foods. The gymnemic acid components are also believed to block the absorption of glucose in the small intestine.
Neem (Azadiratcha indica) is a bitter herb that has the capacity to stimulate the pancreas, improving its digestive and insulin-producing activity. Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is central to many ceremonial and religious activities in Indian culture.