Blood sugar: keeping it steady

We can’t help knowing that type 2 diabetes is on the rise; the message is everywhere you look. And it goes hand in hand with the fact that people are getting heavier. Again, the message is everywhere; you only have to compare a photo of a group of people in the 70s, say, with the people you see on the street today.

Somewhere in the abundance of the late 20th century, fuelled by convenience food, we crossed the line from being better nourished and taller than our ancestors to overdoing the carbohydrates, sugar and fat, at the expense of vegetables and fruit. We still don’t know exactly why this is so hard for our bodies to cope with, though there are plenty of pointers. We know that eating high-sugar food triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas, because it must be mopped up promptly to avoid various types of damage. We know, too, that the flow of insulin can fail in later life, resulting in type 2 diabetes. But why?

It used to be thought that the pancreas just got tired of being overworked in this way. Now, it seems likely that constantly being flooded with sugar leads to various inflammatory reactions in the body, including auto-immune responses. You can be ‘pre-diabetic’, with various symptoms ranging from tiredness to weight gain – or sometimes weight loss – to circulatory problems, for many years before your pancreas gives up. So what can you do?

The press is full of articles about this food or that drink that will help to lower your blood sugar. Drink green tea! Eat more cinnamon, or paprika, or garlic, and your problem will be solved! And it’s true, they really do help. Bitter herbs and foods help, too, though they get less media attention because they are less palatable: things like chicory, dandelion leaves, sage and cos lettuce, for example. But if you carry on overdosing on sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods, all the herbs in the world won’t stop your body from feeling the strain.

Type 2 diabetes can be managed, or even reversed, and herbs can play a big part in that, especially if they go hand-in-hand with a shift away from carbohydrates towards vegetables and fruits. You can still have your cake and eat it, from time to time; just not every day. And when you do have it, you can really enjoy it.