Treatment of Type2 Diabetes

Reducing Inflammation Not Blood Sugars Key to Preventing Diabetes Complications

Researchers discover high blood sugars are not the culprit in causing inflammation and that anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce diabetes complications

Complications Most Challenging

Pricking your finger and taking diabetes medications on a daily basis is tedious but the most challenging and impactful part of this disease is the threat of complications.

Unmanaged diabetes can especially threaten the wellbeing and function of your eyes, kidneys, fingers, toes, gums, stomach, and feet. 

A few years ago, research explained that high blood sugars alone are not the cause of diabetes complications. Instead, chronic inflammation must exist in order for damage to occur in the precious nerves throughout these areas of the body. 

Source of Inflammation?

But what causes that inflammation? Until recently, it was assumed that high blood sugar levels were to blame and that achieving healthier blood sugar levels was the key to reducing inflammation.

Published in Cell Metabolism by researchers from the University of Kentucky, the study reveals that changes in your mitochondria are actually the primary source of inflammation.

Mitochondria are considered the “power source” of energy for the cells in your body because they take in nutrients, breaks them down, and create energy-rich molecules for cell consumption.

Researchers Barbara Nikolajczyk and Douglas Lauffenberger were initially studying a theory that immune cells in patients with type 2 diabetes could produce energy by burning glucose for fuel. While their theory proved false, Nikolajczyk said during that research they stumbled across evidence that damaged mitochondria and high levels of a particular type of fatty tissue were driving persistent inflammation.

Reducing inflammation could prevent complications

The significance of inflammation’s role in diabetes complications was first highlighted by a study published in 2014 when researchers found that without inflammation, glucose couldn’t enter and damage cells in the body.  

This means that reducing inflammation could dramatically help protect against diabetes complications.

This is important because reducing inflammation may be easier than reducing blood sugars for patients with type 2 diabetes battling severe insulin resistance and beta-cell dysfunction.

Researchers pinpointed that adding an inflammatory protein called “interleukin-1” into the bloodstream results in cells metabolizing excess glucose which in turn produces inflammation.  Interleukin-1 had the same inflammatory effect in patients with and without existing diabetes.

After administering an anti-inflammatory drug, the inflammatory response was blocked and the glucose was no longer able to enter and damage the cells.

How you can reduce inflammation naturally

There are actually many ways you can reduce inflammation in your body to reduce your risk of developing complications. Reducing inflammation also means reducing insulin resistance which will further help to lower your blood sugar levels.

Turmeric (curcumin) supplements

Turmeric has proven to be one the of most anti-inflammatory agents mother nature has to offer — even more so than some pharmaceutical drugs, as explained in this 2017 study.

It’s also proven to improve your body’s ability to produce insulin.

A 9-month curcumin intervention in a prediabetic population significantly lowered the number of prediabetic patients who eventually developed type 2 diabetes, explained a 2012 study published by the American Diabetes Association. Curcumin treatment also improved the overall function of beta-cells with very few side-effects.

The study also determined that turmeric can also improve your body’s production of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) which is responsible for the rate at which food is digested, and for signaling to your brain that you’re full which helps you stop eating sooner.

Get moving

Exercise is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory resources at your fingertips — and it doesn’t cost a thing!

“Obesity and physical inactivity are associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, which provides the common soil from which a myriad of metabolic diseases develop,” explained the 2014 study.

Regular exercise (like walking for 30 minutes a day during your lunch break, after work, or after dinner) not only helps to lower your blood sugars, it lowers inflammation levels throughout your entire body, too. As you reduce inflammation, you reduce insulin resistance, which means you can naturally improve your body’s ability to reduce your blood sugar levels, too.

“That could be one of the reasons if we can get a diabetic to exercise and lose weight, they will have less damage to their blood vessels,” explained Mary Ann Bauman, MD.

Don’t overthink it, just get moving. 

Reduce your alcohol consumption

While a glass or two of wine — or a few tasty microbrews — are no big deal for a person with diabetes, drinking alcohol more than one or two nights a week can contribute heavily to overall inflammation.

Alcohol is a toxin. Period. 

If alcohol is present in your body, it wreaks havoc on a variety of aspects of your health. The more you drink, the more potential damage alcohol can cause.

“Heavy alcohol consumption contributes to systemic inflammation by interfering with the body’s natural defenses against the influx of gut microbiota and its products,” explained a 2010 study.

The study adds that alcohol seriously impairs your brain’s ability to regulate systemic inflammation.

Reduce inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten, and sugar

If you’re drinking cow’s milk, eating bread and pasta daily, and consuming sugar throughout your entire day, there’s a lot of potential for reducing inflammation simply by replacing these habits with healthier ones.

  • Swap unsweetened vanilla almond milk for cow’s milk.
  • Limit your gluten intake to once a day and replacing those calories with more whole-food gluten-free sources like fruit, vegetables, beans, and lean protein from chicken, turkey, and eggs.
  • Track how many grams of sugar you drink and eat every day.
  • Cut out all sugary beverages because you can easily cut 50 to 100 grams of sugar from your diet overnight by drinking more water, seltzer, and the occasional beverage sweetened with stevia instead.
  • Limit your sweet treats to once per day or every other day depending on how much sugar you get from food now. 

By making just a few changes to your daily habits, you could drastically lower your body’s inflammation levels and reduce your risk of diabetes complications. You might eventually enjoy those healthier habits, too!

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999, and fibromyalgia since 2014. She is the author of 4 books: Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes, Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, Emotional Eating with Diabetes, Your Diabetes Science Experiment. Ginger creates content regularly for Diabetes Strong, Healthline, HealthCentral, DiabetesDaily, EverydayHealth and her YouTube Channel. Her background includes a B.S. in Professional Writing, certifications in cognitive coaching, Ashtanga yoga, and personal training with several records in drug-free powerlifting. She lives in Vermont with two kiddos and two dogs.

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