Diabetes is a lifelong disease. It is a silent killer, which can take the lives of victims if undiagnosed at the earliest stage. Prediabetes is now considered as an important health concern due to its huge potential for the development of diabetes and other complications. The National Health and Morbidity Survey Malaysia 2019 reported  that there is an alarming prevalence of diabetes in Malaysia.  There were 3.9 million Malaysians living with diabetes. The prevalence rate has risen from 13.4% in 2015 to 18.3% in 2019. That is equivalent to 1 in 5 adults in the country, giving Malaysia the title of “Sweetest Nation in Asia”.

Despite all the awareness programs,  50% of adults are not aware that they are diabetic. The first-ever Malaysian Diabetes Index (MDI) Survey in 2021 reveals that more than 50% of the population do not know that diabetes cannot be cured. Over 1 in 3 (37%) people with diabetes think that cutting down on sugar is good enough, while 51% think that diabetes is not difficult to manage.

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Managing patients with diabetes is important but it is more meaningful to mitigate this health crisis. Prediabetes known as intermediate hyperglycemia has similar risk to diabetes and its complications. Current evidence suggests that diabetes can be prevented at an early stage by resolving the progression of prediabetes to diabetes. Optimal management of diabetes goes way beyond reduction in sugar consumption, because sugar is not only the cause. When someone is diagnosed with diabetes,  the body either does not produce enough insulin, or it produces insulin but does not use it effectively (insulin resistance). Treatments include lifestyle strategies and sometimes medication, but some complementary therapies, such as herbs and supplements, may help.

Complications Of Diabetes

Not only is diabetes incurable, it can also increase one’s risk of developing other health complications such as heart problems, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and amputations. This is why managing diabetes is far more complicated than just controlling blood sugar. The patients need to take  other preemptive measures to reduce the risk of such complications.

According to the MDI 2021 survey, 95% of Malaysians with diabetes are aware that amputations can happen to someone with diabetes, but heart complications happen to be the least known (75%), while they are actually the deadliest of all. Other complications include eye damage (93%), kidney damage (90%), and nerve damage (84%).

Diabetes patients are more susceptible to infections. Poor control of blood sugar can weaken a person’s immune system defenses. The dysfunction of the immune response leads to the failure in controlling the spread of invading pathogens. Those who have had diabetes for a long time may have peripheral nerve damage and reduced blood flow especially to their extremities, which increases their chance of infections. In Malaysia, 70% of people who succumbed to Covid-19 suffered from diabetes, according to the data released by the Institute for Clinical Research (ICR).


Natural Remedies vs Modern Medicines

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Herbs and supplements cannot cure diabetes and or be a standalone treatment. But some, in combination with conventional treatment, may provide relief from diabetes symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Among the popular herbs and supplements used are aloe vera, cinnamon, chromium, alpha lipoic acid, bitter melon extract, milk thistle, fenugreek, gymnema and ginger. In terms of drugs, the first line of treatment usually prescribed in diabetes is metformin followed by other classes of antidiabetics or/and insulin. Whether they are herbal remedies or drugs, both have their pros and cons. 

In November and December, we are sharing some facts about some herbs and supplements that may benefit people with diabetes and prediabetes:

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1. Bitter melon is the most commonly used food in Asia to treat and prevent diabetes-related diseases. There are a number of formulations of bitter melon found in the marketplace today,  but not all bitter melons are created equal. There is a lot of data on its effectiveness as a treatment for diabetes in animal and lab studies. It is important to choose bitter melon extract that is clinically proven in humans, and the studies must be peer reviewed.

2. Chromium is an essential trace element. It is use in the metabolism of carbohydrates. There is good evidence that chromium can lower glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. The best form of chromium is called chromium picolinate. Research showed that it  can lower fasting blood sugar, insulin levels and blood fats in some people. Chromium picolinate is best to be taken as a combination with vitamin Bs, especially vitamin B5 for better results.​

3. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant, and reduces oxidative stress  There is strong evidence that alpha-lipoic acid supplements help with type 2 diabetes. They lower fasting blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance. Studies also found that alpha-lipoic acid supplements can help with neuropathy -- nerve damage -- caused by diabetes or cancer treatment. The best form of ALA is R-ALA, the active and natural form. The S-form occurs when alpha lipoic acid is synthetically manufactured.  S-ALA is not active. Usually, ALA in the marketplace is a combination of 1:1  S-ALA and R-ALA.   Therefore, the commercial ALA is only  50% or less of the potency of a pure R-ALA.

Kordel’s Diabetes 2021 Campaign aims to reach out to the masses with vital information that empower people to be more informed on diabetes, herbs and supplements used to treat and prevent diabetes.  #Test2Prevent is a program that we are promoting during these two months to help the masses to know their risk of getting diabetes, thus more effectively in preventing diabetes and its complications.

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