Complementary Care for Type One Diabetes

Monday, October 9, 2006 - 5:23pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Type 1 diabetes, or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM), accounts for about 10 percent of diabetes cases in the United States. Unlike type 2 diabetes, this type most often starts in childhood and adolescence. In IDDM, the beta cells in the pancreas are completely destroyed. Since these are the cells that make insulin, people with type 1 diabetes are no longer capable of producing any insulin, and as a result, have high amounts of sugar in their blood.

IDDM (type 1 diabetes) - causes and treatment

The cause of this disease is unknown. 75 percent of people with IDDM have antibodies to their own pancreas in their blood. This is a type of auto-immunity in which the body attacks itself. It is a reaction that occurs when the body detects and reacts to a virus, parasite, bacteria, or food that looks similar in some way to the pancreatic cells that make insulin. The stimulated immune system makes the mistake of attacking the similar cells in the pancreas. There appears to be a genetic predisposition to this reaction, although the connection is not as strong as in non-insulin dependent diabetes.

People with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin multiple times daily or wear an insulin pump that injects insulin constantly to get sugar from their blood to their body's cells. This is the only way they can control their blood sugar levels. The location of insulin injections must be rotated often to avoid irritating the tissue in contact with the insulin. These people also need to control their diet by avoiding processed foods, simple sugars, and high fat foods.

Supplements that help control symptoms of type 1 diabetes

In addition to a controlled diet, some physicians recommend supplements to assist the body in slowing the disease process:

  • Niacin or Vitamin B3 - If administered early enough, these vitamins may slow down the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas and thus prevent the full-blown development of type 1 diabetes. Niacin-containing foods include: beef liver and kidney, tuna, chicken, wild salmon, halibut, peanuts, brown rice, almonds, and whole eggs.

  • Zinc - This supplement seems to help protect pancreatic beta cells from destruction as well, and can help with insulin utilization. Zinc is found in nuts, especially Brazil nuts, seed, whole grains and legumes.
  • Biotin - Biotin can enhance the sensitivity of cells to insulin and improve blood sugar control in people with IDDM, perhaps because it allows them to use less insulin. Chromium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and manganese all work to control blood sugar levels by improving cell sensitivity to insulin or improving the action of insulin. These nutrients are often deficient in people with diabetes and can be found in foods and supplements.

When using these nutrients in supplement form, it is best to consult with a doctor familiar with their use and proper dosage. Start slowly and constantly monitor blood sugar levels to adjust insulin levels as needed. This will help to avoid the possibility of blood sugar levels dipping too low.