Obviously, the most powerful tools to manage diabetes are diet, exercise and avoiding toxins in our environment.  In addition to these, there are certain natural compounds that can be powerful advocates in the battle against diabetes.

To understand the progression to diabetes we first need to understand that the beta cells of the pancreas are the cells that produce insulin to be released in the body. There are a few triggers that cause insulin release, the most powerful of which is glucose floating around in the bloodstream. Other things like the amino acids arginine and leucine, the gut derived hormones GLP-1 and GIP and epinephrine (adrenaline–this may one of the reasons why stress is so destructive to sugar handling).

In a perfect world with lots of good phytonutrients to protect it and nothing to insult it, the beta cells of the pancreas hum along just find doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Of course, a few minutes people watching at the local discount buffet can tell you that we don’t live in a perfect world.

Ironically enough, the beta cells of the pancreas–the very ones we need to protect us against diabetes, are uniquely vulnerable to too much sugar. Much research over the past decade has pointed to the fact that oxidative stress within the beta cells begins the inexorable slide into prediabetes and diabetes and ultimately, a slow and disease ridden death.

  1. Oxidative stress indicators linked to prediabetes
  2. The mere act of forcing the beta cells to produce more insulin damages them

For those of your who have already been labeled diabetics, consider this little tidbit. Some of the most common drugs used to treat diabetes (the sulfonylureas like glybizide and Glyburide) force the already overworked beta cells of the pancreas to work harder. Picture a slave driver with a whip forcing the tired little beta cells to literally work to death. If your doctor has you on this class of drugs, he or she have obviously missed multiple studies over the past decade:

  1. Higher sulfonylurea dose increases risk of death
  2. Sulfonylureas stimulate beta cell suicide, called apoptosis
  3. Deeper detail into how sulfonylureas stimulate beta cell death
  4. Sulfonylureas increase the amount of oxidative stress in the beta cells
  5. MORE info on suflonylureas increasing oxidative stress

Hopefully by now you’re getting the idea that I’m not making this stuff up. Worse, I have the same concerns with the massive increase in use of drugs like Byetta and Januvia to manage the GLP-1 pathways in our bodies. It will not surprise me to find that this class of drugs will have even greater effects in the long run.

So, what actually helps to protect the beta cells of our pancreas? There are many compounds and lifestyle factors that we are aware of. Here are just a few:

  1. 77% of diabetics were deficient in magnesium in this study
  2. High doses of magnesium helped lower prediabetes in this study
  3. Vitamin D helps protect the beta cells from oxidative stress
  4. Monounsaturated fat (think olive oil) protects the beta cells
  5. Another article on monounsaturated fats

This particular article adds alpha lipoic acid to the list of compounds known to protect the beta cells of the pancreas and finds that, in mice fed a high fat diet, alpha lipoic acid was still able to protect the beta cells. While this dose not give you free reign to eat a crappy diet and just load up with supplements, a good dosage to add of lipoic acid to your regimen is 400 mg / day.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.