Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where the body cannot process carbohydrates efficiently. It’s characterized by high blood sugar and insulin resistance (1). Once termed adult-onset diabetes, the disease is now common in children. The long-term consequences of diabetes affect the eyes, kidneys, heart, blood vessels and the brain (1,2).
The risk of diabetic complications increases the longer a person has diabetes, and they have devastating consequences. Diabetes is the most prevalent metabolic disease of our time and arguably the most preventable and manageable. It’s time to look at diabetes beyond insulin and blood sugar to see how we better manage and prevent it.
Insulin is a hormone that transports sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cells to be used for energy. Insulin also takes sugar to the liver and muscles, where it gets stored as glycogen- a healthy source of energy for the body to utilize as needed. When intake of sugar is greater than the metabolic demands of the body we see physiological adaptations occur- which can lead to diabetes.
As sugar intake exceeds the needs of the body, the cells slowly stop responding to insulin. This is called insulin resistance, which results in high blood sugar. The more insulin resistant an individual is, the more insulin is needed to shunt sugar into the cells. In response to insulin resistance, more insulin is produced by the pancreas.
While excess sugar is the number one cause of insulin resistance, other factors can play into its progression. In order to develop a holistic framework for diabetes management, we have to look at the whole picture of insulin resistance.
Factors Contributing to Insulin Resistance
We discussed that high blood sugar is a symptom of insulin resistance. High blood sugar causes oxidative stress and free radical production which damages the blood vessels. This contributes to many of the complications of diabetes such as retinopathy, nephropathy and cognitive impairments.
Potential Holistic Approaches
Clinical management focuses on blood sugar control and insulin resistance, with the use of medications such as metformin. Given the complex nature of diabetes, a multifactorial approach is needed in order to bring the back into homeostasis, such as:
Astaxanthin and Diabetes
In one study, subjects with Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) were given 8 mg astaxanthin per day for 8 weeks. The results showed significant improvements in two key markers: Scientists found a reduction in visceral adipose tissue and an increase in adiponectin concentration. These findings are important as both adipose tissue and low adiponectin are major risk factors for insulin resistance. They also found that astaxanthin relaxed the blood vessels, decreasing systolic blood pressure (2).
Another study found that when paired with berberine (a herbal extract), astaxanthin has the potential to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. It also showed the synergistic effect of astaxanthin and berberine positively influenced blood profiles (3).
While the pathophysiology of diabetic conditions is complex, research is recognizing oxidative stress as the key metabolic factor driving the onset of complications associated with diabetes. If you’ve followed along with our blogs, you know that tackling oxidative stress is astaxanthin’s claim to fame. Thus, research is showing that, among other mechanisms of action, the antioxidant capacity of astaxanthin helps reduce these complications such as neurological (brain) damage, nephropathy (kidney disease), retinopathy (eye conditions) and immunosuppression (immune system) (1,2,4,5).
Although there are many natural ways to help support those diagnosed with diabetes, always consult with your health care practitioner before changing an existing protocol or starting a new one.
Disclaimer: The article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Should you have any health concerns, you should see your doctor.