Over the last decade, type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in our country, affecting 16 million Americans. However, it has been my clinical experience that enzyme therapy coupled with specific lifestyle and dietary changes can help clients digest and assimilate carbohydrates to better manage weight and blood sugar levels. To understand how enzyme therapy can help prevent, improve, or even cure this disease, lets take a look at how diet can contribute to diabetes.
Poor Digestion of Carbohydrates
One reason behind the increase in diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes is the change in the American diet. Never before have we, as a nation, eaten more carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the carbs that we consume are not, for the most part, what are known as “good” or “complex” carbs, but simple sugars and processed carbohydrates. This overindulgence has health ramifications far beyond simply becoming overweight.
In my more than twenty years of practice, I have identified one characteristic shared by 80 percent of my patients: carbohydrate intolerance–the inability to adequately break down and assimilate sugars and starches. Since individuals who have food intolerances tend to crave the types of nutrients they cannot digest, they tend to overeat those types of foods. Over-eating carbohydrates–especially when one is intolerant–can put one at risk for high blood sugar, insulin resistance and, eventually, type 2 diabetes.
Enzyme therapy coupled with specific lifestyle and dietary changes can help clients to digest and assimilate carbohydrates to better manage their weight and blood sugar levels. For people who don’t have diabetes, or who have a family history of the illness, enzymes can safeguard against the disease by ensuring proper digestion, an important factor in stabilizing blood sugar. For those who develop diabetes, enzyme therapy is more than just nutritional support. Enzymes can restore physiological balance and resilience to a body that’s facing challenges on a variety of fronts, because diabetes affects so many organs and systems.
To fully understand how enzyme therapy can help prevent, improve, or even cure this disease, it is important to take a close look at the mechanisms behind the onset of diabetes. While a number of risk factors contribute to this disease, diet usually bears much of the blame.
How Carbohydrates Are Broken Down and Assimilated in the Body
In my clinical experience, the diabetes disease process often begins with excessive sugar (carbohydrate) consumption and poor sugar digestion.
Once a carbohydrate is ingested, the digestive process splits it into its component sugars. This process begins in the mouth with thorough chewing, which activates the food’s enzymes to facilitate pre-digestion. From there, the carbohydrate travels to the stomach, where it meets up with additional digestive enzymes, which further break it down into single sugar molecules small enough to travel through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream.
Once these sugar molecules cross over the intestinal lining, they enter the portal vein, which carries blood to the liver. There they are converted into cholesterol or triglycerides. This is a very important protective pathway because, while the body uses sugar for energy, it seldom needs the entire supply right away–only in cases of extreme physical exertion, such as running a marathon. If all that sugar headed directly into the bloodstream, blood sugar levels would skyrocket.
So, the liver acts as a buffer, releasing some of the sugar for use as energy in the body and converting the excess for storage as fat.
The Insulin Response
Meanwhile, the absorption of sugar through the intestinal lining prompts the pancreas to release insulin, the hormone that is responsible for escorting the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. The amount of insulin produced is directly proportionate to the amount of sugar entering the portal vein at any given moment. Therefore, if an individual eats a high-carbohydrate meal, a lot of sugar floods the portal vein at once. In response, the pancreas churns out insulin to compensate.
The Role of Insulin
Insulin serves several important functions in the body. First and foremost, as we have seen, it helps balance blood sugar, thus protecting the body and brain from the effects of excessive blood sugar. When there’s too much sugar in the body, it alerts the liver to step up the conversion of sugar to fat to help stabilize blood sugar levels.1
Insulin is one of the primary nutrient-transport hormones. Working in tandem with glucagon, a hormone released from the pancreas in response to the ingestion of protein, it delivers not only sugars but also proteins and fats into cells. Each cell has numerous receptors that open up to insulin, allowing the hormone to deliver its load of sugar and other nutrients for use as fuel.
Glucagon mobilizes nutrients through three primary actions. It directs the liver to send sugar into the bloodstream so that it’s available to the brain and body; it instructs cells to free up fats for use as fuel; and it signals cells to release proteins, which serve as building materials for muscles, bones, skin, hair, and fingernails.
The ratio of insulin to glucagon determines how the body utilizes and stores the various nutrients. For example, when you eat carbohydrates alone, they enter the bloodstream quickly, prompting a rise in insulin and a corresponding decline in glucose. In response to this elevated ratio of insulin to glucagon, the body stores the excess sugar as fat. Conversely, eating a protein-only meal increases glucagon while reducing insulin. (Fats and non-starchy vegetables have no effect on the ratio between the two hormones).
Maintaining a Balance between Transport Hormones
To maintain a balanced ratio between the transport hormones insulin and glucagon, one should ideally build meals around a healthy mix of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy (mostly unsaturated) fats, and non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuces, celery, cucumbers, and onions.2 When insulin and glucagon are in proper proportion, the body can efficiently use carbs and proteins to replenish cellular energy and repair structural components rather than storing them as fat.
The Glycemic Index
One important tool to help measure the ratio of insulin to glucagon in a given food is the glycemic index (GI). The GI is an indicator of how quickly insulin rises in response to a particular carbohydrate. The more sugar entering the portal vein after digestion of a particular carb, the higher the glycemic index of a food.
As a rule of thumb, simple sugars,such as refined grains (breads, cookies, cakes, white rice),have higher GI ratings. Because these grains have been stripped of their fiber, which slows the rate of digestion, their sugars enter the bloodstream quickly.3 Whole grains retain their fiber, which slows down the rate at which their sugars enter the bloodstream. For this reason, whole grains have lower GI’. The healthiest whole grains to eat are quinoa, wild rice, and buckwheat.
When Insulin Can’t Do Its Job
If an individual spends years eating highly processed, high-carbohydrate meals, that translates into years of excessive, cumulative sugar buildup in the body. When a certain threshold of sugar saturation is reached, cells respond by reducing their number of insulin receptors, thus preventing insulin from delivering its load of sugar. This is what’s known as insulin resistance,4 a forerunner of type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance is a natural defense mechanism. Cells become insulin resistant because they’re trying to protect themselves from the toxic effects of high insulin levels. Meanwhile, the pancreas keeps churning out more and more insulin because it’s trying to clear the bloodstream of all the excess sugar. However, such a high level of insulin production cannot be sustained forever. As insulin production begins slowing down and cellular resistance increases, blood sugar continues to climb, creating a condition known as hyperglycemia. Eventually, type 2 diabetes sets in.
Other Factors that Aggravate Insulin Resistance
There are other factors besides eating too many carbohydrates that can trigger insulin resistance. If you reduce the number of calories that you eat, or if you can’t properly digest the foods you eat because of an intolerance or enzyme deficiency, your body may need to do extra work manufacturing its own supply of sugar in order to keep your brain functioning. This is accomplished by converting glycogen, a type of complex carbohydrate molecule that’s stored in liver cells and muscle, into glucose–a process that contributes to insulin resistance. Skipping meals, drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, and chronic stress also contribute to this condition.
Insulin resistance is the primary symptom of metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X, which the federal government now recognizes as a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, among other serious medical conditions. Other symptoms of this syndrome include hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and excessive abdominal fat.
Further Diabetes Risk Factors
According to the latest research, being overweight or obese is the single most important predictor of diabetes. Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption also significantly increase one’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. These risk factors support the hypothesis that a majority of cases of diabetes could be prevented if people adopted healthier lifestyles.5
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the lesser-known diabetes risk factors.
As I mentioned above, I’m convinced that the excessive levels of carbohydrate in the standard American diet is a major reason for the epidemic of type 2 diabetes. The problem isn’t just that people are eating too much sugar, it’s also that they aren’t able to digest it properly. When the digestive process goes awry because of an insufficient supply of enzymes or an inability to adequately digest carbohydrates due to an intolerance, this can cause cravings for sugary foods.
In my practice, I seldom meet a person who doesn’t show signs of sugar sensitivity. Even in the absence of a sensitivity, sugar is both highly addictive and damaging to the immune system. Enzyme therapy can correct this problem by restoring and supporting proper digestion. This not only eliminates carbohydrate cravings and sugar addiction, but also prevents sugar from bypassing the liver and seeping directly into the bloodstream.
For my sugar-sensitive patients, I recommend a carbohydrate digestive enzyme, which I have found to be tremendously successful in treating this condition. I suggest taking two or three capsules of this formula before each meal. It contains a broad spectrum of enzymes to thoroughly break down carbs into their component sugars and to assimilate the sugars into the bloodstream via the liver. A good carbohydrate digestive enzyme will also promote weight loss–an important benefit for people who need to slim down in order to effectively manage diabetes.
The media tells us that our children must drink milk to build strong teeth and bones. But cow’s milk is not the healthy beverage we think it is. When young children consume cow’s milk, it triggers an autoimmune reaction that directs antibodies to the pancreas.6 This can interfere with the production of insulin, setting the stage for diabetes.
“It is a dietary error to cross species to get milk from another animal,” writes John R. Christopher, N.D., in his book Herbal Health Care. “There is a tremendous difference between human babies and baby calves, and a corresponding difference between the milk that is intended to nourish human babies and baby calves.”
The difference identified by Dr. Christopher involves not only the amount of protein but also the type of protein in the two types of milk. Cow’s milk has 20 times more casein than human milk. This makes assimilating it nearly impossible for humans.
When the body can’t thoroughly break down protein, this weakens the immune system, triggering an autoimmune reaction. In infants, symptoms of this reaction can include nasal congestion, bronchial infection, asthma, skin rash, irritability, and fatigue. Taking a protein digestive enzyme before consuming anything that contains cow’s milk should prevent or minimize these symptoms.
While I advise patients to steer clear of cow’s milk because of the body’s response to it, sometimes they can’t avoid it. For example, milk casein even turns up in many soy products, including tofu.
Taking a fat/protein digestive enzyme can help alleviate these sensitivities. I suggest taking two or three capsules of the following formula before each meal containing cheese or milk:
• Amylase (4,000 to 6,000 CU)
• Cellulase (150 to 300 CU)
• Lipase (150 to 600 LU)
• Glucoamylase (3 to 6 AGU)
• Lactase (300 to 500 ALU)
• Malt diastase (125 to 150 DP)
• Protease blend plus peptidase (18,000 to 50,000 HUT)
Prevention Is the Best Protection
It is my belief that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. While a family history of this illness increases your predisposition to it, dietary and lifestyle factors determine whether or not you develop the full-blown disease–or how well you manage it, if you already have it.
The primary objective of any plan to avoid or control diabetes is to stabilize blood sugar levels. The two most important strategies are to, first, cut back on carbohydrates, which quickly elevate blood sugar; and, second, to take digestive enzymes, which ensure proper digestion and assimilation of any carbohydrates a person does eat. These two lifestyle changes protect against hyperinsulinemia, a condition in which the pancreas continuously churns out insulin in an effort to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream. Chronic hyperinsulinemia leads to insulin resistance and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
Enzyme and Nutritional Strategies
A number of enzyme formulas and nutritional supplements can help balance blood sugar and prevent or manage insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. While I specifically test clients for food sensitivities in my clinic, most people have an understanding of which foods affect them adversely, causing bloating and other digestive difficulties. I advise readers of my books and articles to try different formulas for a period of time and monitor how they feel and how much weight they lose.
While I use a line of specially formulated enzyme supplements in my practice, it may not always be possible to find all of these ingredients in a single product for sale in a health food store. In that case, an individual can either choose a product containing just the primary ingredients (in bold below), or purchase and take these ingredients as separate supplements.
In all cases, I encourage them to take these enzyme formulas with a pH-balanced, full-spectrum digestive enzyme to help them fully assimilate them.
Blood Sugar-balancing Enzyme Formula
To treat or protect against type 2 diabetes, take a blood sugar–balancing enzyme formula three times a day, 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal. This formula supports insulin production in the pancreas and assists insulin in moving sugar from the bloodstream into cells. A quality product will contain the following ingredients:
Gymnema leaf extract (300 to 450 milligrams)–native to the tropical forests of India, this plant has a long history as a treatment for diabetes.
Gymnema sylvestre appeared on the U.S. market several years ago and has a demonstrated track record of stabilizing blood sugar.
Vitamin E from d-alpha tocopherol succinate (60 to 80 IU)–significantly increases the insulin sensitivity of cells.
Vitamin B6 (4 to 8 milligrams)–people with diabetes run low in this nutrient.
Chromium polynicotinate (200 to 300 micrograms)–has been shown to positively influence the rate of insulin production, promote insulin responsiveness in muscle and fat cells, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Rice bran (100 to 200 milligrams)–a natural source of B vitamins, which help maintain healthy nerves and prevent diabetes complications.
If you are suffering from chronic stress, I suggest two capsules of an adrenal enzyme formula twice a day, either 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal. The adrenal glands play an important role in sugar metabolism. Prolonged stress can exhaust them which, in turn, has a negative effect on blood sugar levels. I recommend a product that contains the following ingredients:
Panax ginseng root extract (320 to 500 milligrams)–has been found to lower blood sugar levels.
Bupleurum root extract (200 to 600 milligrams)–enhances adrenal function.
Vitamin C from acerola cherry extract (20 to 100 milligrams)–helps prevent diabetes complications.
Pantothenic acid (a.k.a. vitamin B5) (100 to 200 milligrams)–helps the body use carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Rice bran (130 to 200 milligrams)–a natural source of B vitamins.
Further Nutritional Strategies
Antioxidants. Take one capsule of an antioxidant supplement a day, either 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal. Antioxidants can help prevent the onset of diabetes as well as slow its progression.
EFA’s. Take one capsule of an essential fatty acid formula once a day. EFA’s activate enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors on cells to help them better take in sugar. Fish oil capsules and flaxseed oil are excellent sources of EFA’s. Conjugated linoleic acid, CLA, a type of EFA found in beef and dairy fats7, can improve blood sugar transport and insulin sensitivity. It is probably healthier, however, to take CLA in supplement form rather than eating these foods.
Folic acid. Take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid a day. Studies have established a link between a low intake of folic acid and a number of medical conditions, including diabetes. Some people appear to have trouble digesting and absorbing this B vitamin, which increases the chances of a deficiency.
Dietary nutrients. If you have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, be sure to increase your dietary intake of the following nutrients to help lower blood sugar levels, diminish sugar cravings, and support weight loss: magnesium8, vitamin E9, chromium10, vanadium11, alpha lipoic acid12, biotin13, and zinc.14
Taking these enzyme formulas and nutrients–coupled with lifestyle strategies such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating minimal carbohydrates (only complex carbs), and engaging in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week–offer significant protection against developing type 2 diabetes in at-risk individuals and in controlling symptoms in those who already have the disease.
Dr. Ellen W. Cutler is a leading authority on enzyme therapy and the founder of BioSET, an innovative healing system that combines the use of enzyme supplements with other complementary medicine disciplines to treat a variety of chronic illnesses and achieve optimum health. Author of The Food Allergy Cure and MicroMiracles: Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes, among other books, Dr. Cutler resides in Marin County, California. For more information on enzymes, digestive aids, and a directory of enzyme therapy practitioners, visit her website at www.bioset.net.