Can a Holistic Approach to Diabetes Reduce Risk?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Holistic Approach to Diabetes

The Role of Supplementation In Reducing Diabetes Risk

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

holistic approach diabetes doctors recommendDoctors usually discuss a holistic approach to diabetes with their patients.  But, that often isn’t the case for other diseases. Why do doctors recommend drugs rather than natural approaches for controlling and treating other diseases? In part, it’s because so many Americans would rather take a pill than change their diet or lifestyle. Many of our doctors have become so conditioned to that expectation from their patients they don’t even suggest diet and lifestyle changes.

That is our fault. We need to take responsibility for our health. Rather than just accepting whatever treatment our doctors suggest, we should partner with our doctors in designing the best treatment plan for us.

The other reason doctors often recommend drugs is that they are trained to base their decisions on evidence-based medicine. The Gold Standard for evidence-based medicine is, of course, a double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial. In those studies, a single component is compared to the placebo. That is easy to do when you are comparing a drug to a placebo. The drug either works better than the placebo, or it doesn’t.

 

Do Natural Remedies for Diabetes Work?

 

Of course, many of you are more interested in knowing whether holistic, natural approaches also work. That is a much more difficult question to answer.

Double blind, placebo controlled clinical studies are much more difficult to perform when you are looking at foods or nutrients. That’s because foods and nutrients are seldom effective by themselves. They interact with each other. It is the whole, rather than the individual components, that reduce the risk of diabetes and other diseases. Even worse, when you want to test the effectiveness of a holistic change in diet and lifestyle, how do you design a placebo?

holistic approach diabetes talkIt reminds me of an international cancer symposium I attended over 30 years ago as a young Assistant Professor. A world-renowned cancer expert gave a talk from main stage and concluded by saying “I can show you, unequivocally, that colon cancer risk is significantly decreased by a lifestyle that includes a high-fiber diet, a low-fat diet, adequate calcium, adequate B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, and weight control. But, I can’t show you that any one of them, by themselves, is effective.”

The question that came to me as I heard him speak was: “What’s the message that a responsible scientist or responsible health professional should be giving to their patients or the people that they are advising?” You’ve heard experts saying: “Don’t worry about the fat.” “Don’t worry about calcium.” “Don’t worry about B vitamins.” “Don’t worry about fiber.” “None of them can be shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer.”

Is that the message we should be giving people? Or should we really be saying what that doctor said many years ago – that a lifestyle that includes all those things significantly decreases the risk of colon cancer?

The problem is the negative studies you hear about, and your doctor hears about, are usually studies done with individual foods or individual nutrients. Those studies leave the impression that natural approaches don’t work. However, when you look at a holistic approach to diabetes, the answers are often much different.

 

Can a Holistic Approach to Diabetes Reduce Risk?

holistic approach diabetes reduceI created the diagram on the left for my book “Slaying the Food Myths” to represent holistic approaches to health. Simply put, diet, weight control, exercise, and supplementation all play a role in improving our health. It is that sweet spot in the middle of the diagram where we receive the optimal benefit. Finally, both diet and supplementation should also be holistic. No one food or nutrient will be effective by itself.

This is perfectly illustrated by a recent study (S.M. Kimball et al, Journal of Clinical & Translational Endocrinology, doi: 10.1016/j.jcte.2017.11.002 eCollection Dec 2017 ). If you just read the headlines, you would conclude the study was just about the effect of supplementation on the risk of developing diabetes. However, when you read the publication, you realized the study involves a lot more than supplementation.

The study was conducted by a non-profit wellness organization called Pure North S’Energy Foundation located in Calgary, Canada. They enrolled 188 middle-aged adults (ages 25-54 years) in the studies. Based on BMI measurements the participants were overweight, but not obese. They were followed for a two-year period.

Each of the participants met regularly with a health care professional who provided them with lifestyle advice. Specifically:

  • They were advised to increase fruit and vegetable intake and reduce processed foods.
  • If they had cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension or hyperlipidemia, they were advised to go on the DASH diet.
  • They were advised to follow an exercise routine that was appropriate for their health status.

In addition, the subjects were divided into two groups:

  • Group 1 received a liquid vitamin D3 supplement consisting of 1,000 IU of vitamin D/drop. The dosage they received was individualized so that each subject received enough vitamin D to bring their blood levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D to an optimal level of >100 nmole/L.
  • Group 2 received the vitamin D plus 600 mg of EPA and EPA, plus a very comprehensive multivitamin. In addition to the nutrients found in most multivitamins, their formulation contained carotenoids such as lutein and lycopene, polyphenols from wine grapes, N-acetyl cysteine, coenzyme Q10 and a host of other phytonutrients.

[Note: This supplement is not commercially available. However, I would not recommend it if it were. There appears to be little scientific rationale for the amounts of some ingredients.]

In short, all the subjects were put on a holistic diet and lifestyle program ( a holistic approach to diabetes ). Groupe 2 also received what I would consider a holistic supplement. Here were the results of the study.

  • Neither group had significant weight loss or weight gain.
  • Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D increased significantly in both groups (the vitamin D supplementation was effective).
  • HbA1c levels (a measure of blood sugar control) worsened slightly in Group 1 and improved slightly in Group 2.

However, those were average values. Individual subjects had much more significant changes in HbA1c. In fact, based on changes in HbA1c levels:

  • 16% of Group 1 participants and only 8% of Group 2 participants progressed from normal blood sugar control to either prediabetes or diabetes.
  • 8% of Group1 participants and 44% of Group 2 participants improved from prediabetes or diabetes to normal blood sugar control.

The authors of the study concluded: “The results suggest that nutrient supplementation may provide a safe, economical, and effective means for lowering diabetes risk. Further examination of this potential via randomized controlled trials is warranted.”

 

The Role of Supplementation In Reducing Diabetes Risk

holistic approach to diabetes supplementationThis is a single study and needs to be confirmed by future studies. However, if this study is confirmed, it has some interesting implications:

  • It suggests a holistic approach to supplementation may be effective at decreasing diabetes risk.
  • The holistic approach to supplementation was coupled with a holistic diet and lifestyle change in this study. We cannot assume that supplementation alone would have been effective in reducing diabetes risk.
  • Since both Groups 1 and Group 2 included diet and lifestyle changes, we can conclude that the holistic diet and lifestyle changes in this study were not sufficient to reduce diabetes risk. Holistic supplementation was also required.
  • The reason that diet and lifestyle changes did not affect diabetes risk in this study was most likely the failure to include a weight loss component. Multiple studies have shown that weight loss reduces diabetes risk.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

A recent study looked at the effect of a holistic diet, lifestyle and supplementation intervention on diabetes risk.

All participants in the study met regularly with a health care professional who provided them with lifestyle advice. Specifically:

  • They were advised to increase fruit and vegetable intake and reduce processed foods.
  • If they had cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension or hyperlipidemia, they were advised to go on the DASH diet.
  • They were advised to follow an exercise routine that was appropriate for their health status.

The subjects were divided into two groups:

  • Group 1 received a liquid vitamin D3 supplement consisting of 1,000 IU of vitamin D.
  • Group 2 received the vitamin D plus 600 mg of EPA and EPA, plus a very comprehensive multivitamin containing carotenoids such as lutein and lycopene, polyphenols from wine grapes, N-acetyl cysteine, coenzyme Q10 and a host of other phytonutrients.

Over a two-year period:

  • 16% of Group 1 participants and only 8% of Group 2 progressed from normal blood sugar control to either prediabetes or diabetes.
  • 8% of Group1 participants and 44% of Group 2 participants improved from prediabetes or diabetes to normal blood sugar control.

This is a single study and needs to be confirmed by future studies. However, if this study is confirmed, it has some interesting implications:

  • It suggests a holistic approach to supplementation may be effective at decreasing diabetes risk.
  • The holistic approach to supplementation was coupled with a holistic diet and lifestyle change in this study. We cannot assume that supplementation alone would have been effective in reducing diabetes risk.
  • Since both Groups 1 and Group 2 included diet and lifestyle changes, we know that the holistic diet and lifestyle changes in this study were not sufficient to reduce diabetes risk. Holistic supplementation was also required.
  • The reason that diet and lifestyle change did not affect diabetes risk was most likely the failure to include a weight loss component. Multiple studies have shown that weight loss reduces diabetes risk.

For more details, read the article above:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Kathy Brauer

    |

    Group 2 received the vitamin D plus 600 mg of EPA and EPA, plus a very comprehensive multivitamin.

    Should that be EPA and DHA? Not too pick, but checking my assumption.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Yes. Thanks for spotting the typo

      Reply

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Latest Article

Does Magnesium Optimize Vitamin D Levels?

Posted February 12, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

The Case For Holistic Supplementation

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Does magnesium optimize vitamin D levels?

magnesium optimize vitamin dOne of the great mysteries about vitamin D is the lack of correlation between vitamin D intake and blood levels of its active metabolite, 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Many people who consume RDA levels of vitamin D from foods and/or supplements end up with low blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The reason(s) for this discrepancy between intake of vitamin D and blood levels of its active metabolite are not currently understood.

Another great mystery is why it has been so difficult to demonstrate benefits of vitamin D supplementation. Association studies show a strong correlation between optimal 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. However, placebo-controlled clinical trials of vitamin D supplementation have often come up empty. Until recently, many of those studies did not measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. Could it be that optimal levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D were not achieved?

The authors of the current study hypothesized that optimal magnesium status might be required for vitamin D conversion to its active form. You are probably wondering why magnesium would influence vitamin D metabolism. I had the same question.

The authors pointed out that:

  • Magnesium status affects the activities of enzymes involved in both the synthesis and degradation of 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • Some clinical studies have suggested that magnesium intake interacts with vitamin D intake in affecting health outcomes.
  • If the author’s hypothesis is correct, it is a concern because magnesium deficiency is prevalent in this country. In their “Fact Sheet For Health Professionals,” the NIH states that “…a majority of Americans of all ages ingest less magnesium from food than their respective EARs [Estimated Average Requirement]; adult men aged 71 years and older and adolescent females are most likely to have low intakes.” Other sources have indicated that magnesium deficiency may approach 70-80% for adults over 70.

If the author’s hypothesis that magnesium is required for vitamin D activation is correct and most Americans are deficient in magnesium, this raises some troubling questions.

  • Most vitamin D supplements do not contain magnesium. If people aren’t getting supplemental magnesium from another source, they may not be optimally utilizing the vitamin D in the supplements.
  • Most clinical studies involving vitamin D do not also include magnesium. If most of the study participants are deficient in magnesium, it might explain why it has been so difficult to show benefits from vitamin D supplementation.

Thus the authors devised a study (Q Dai et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1249-1258, 2018 ) to directly test their hypothesis.

 

How Was The Study Designed?

magnesium optimize vitamin d studyThe authors recruited 180 volunteers, aged 40-85, from an ongoing study on the prevention of colon cancer being conducted at Vanderbilt University. The duration of the study was 12 weeks. Blood was drawn at the beginning of the study to measure baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. Three additional blood draws to determine 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were performed at weeks 1, 6, and 12.

Because high blood calcium levels increase excretion of magnesium, the authors individualized magnesium intake based on “optimizing” the calcium to magnesium ratio in the diet rather than giving everyone the same amount of magnesium. The dietary calcium to magnesium ratio for most Americans is 2.6 to 1 or higher. Based on their previous work, they considered an “ideal” calcium to magnesium ratio to be 2.3 to 1. The mean daily dose of magnesium supplementation in this study was 205 mg, with a range from 77 to 390 mg to achieve the “ideal” calcium to magnesium ratio. The placebo was an identical gel capsule containing microcrystalline cellulose.

Two 24-hour dietary recalls were conducted at baseline to determine baseline dietary intake of calcium and magnesium. Four additional 24-hour dietary recalls were performed during the 12-week study to assure that calcium intake was unchanged and the calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.3 to 1 was achieved.

In short this was a small study, but it was very well designed to test the author’s hypothesis.

 

Does Magnesium Optimize Vitamin D Levels?

 

does magnesium optimize vitamin d levelsThis was a very complex study, so I am simplifying it for this discussion. For full details, I refer you to the journal article (Q Dai et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1249-1258, 2018).

The most significant finding was that magnesium supplementation did affect blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. However, the effect of magnesium supplementation varied depending on the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D level at the beginning of the study.

  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D was 20 ng/ml or less (which the NIH considers inadequate), magnesium supplementation had no effect on 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.
  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D was 20-30 ng/ml (which the NIH considers the lower end of the adequate range), magnesium supplementation increased 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.
  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D level approached 50 ng/ml (which the NIH says may be “associated with adverse effects”), magnesium supplementation lowered 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

The simplest interpretation of these results is:

  • When vitamin D intake is inadequate, magnesium cannot magically create 25-hydroxyvitamin D from thin air.
  • When vitamin D intake is adequate, magnesium can enhance the conversion of vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • When vitamin D intake is too high, magnesium can help protect you by lowering 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

The authors concluded: “Our findings suggest that optimal magnesium status may be important for optimizing 25-hydroxyvitamin D status. Further dosing studies are warranted…”

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

magnesium optimize vitamin d for youThis was a groundbreaking study that has provided novel and interesting results.

  • It provides the first evidence that optimal magnesium status may be required for optimizing the conversion of vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • It suggests that optimal magnesium status can help normalize 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels by increasing low levels and decreasing high levels.

However, this was a small study and, like any groundbreaking study, has significant limitations. For a complete discussion of the limitations and strengths of this study I refer you to the editorial (S Lin and Q Liu, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1159-1161, 2018) that accompanied the study.

In summary, this study needs to be replicated by larger clinical studies with a more diverse study population. In order to provide meaningful results, those studies would need to carefully control and monitor calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D intake. There is also a need for mechanistic studies to better understand how magnesium can both increase low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and decrease high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

However, assuming the conclusions of this study to be true, it has some interesting implications:

  • If you are taking a vitamin D supplement, you should probably make sure that you are also getting the DV (400 mg) of magnesium from diet plus supplementation.
  • If you are taking a calcium supplement, you should check that it also provides a significant amount of magnesium. If not, change supplements or make sure that you get the DV for magnesium elsewhere.
  • I am suggesting that you shoot for the DV (400 mg) of magnesium rather than reading every label and calculating the calcium to magnesium ratio. The “ideal” ratio of 2.3 to 1 is hypothetical at this point. A supplement providing the DV of both calcium and magnesium would have a calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.5, and I would not fault any manufacturer for providing you with the DV of both nutrients.
  • If you are taking high amounts of calcium, I would recommend a supplement that has a calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.5 or less.
  • If you are considering a magnesium supplement to optimize your magnesium status, you should be aware that magnesium can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. I would recommend a sustained release magnesium supplement.
  • Finally, whole grains and legumes are among your best dietary sources of magnesium. Forget those diets that tell you to eliminate whole food groups. They are likely to leave you magnesium-deficient.

Even if the conclusions of this study are not confirmed by subsequent studies, we need to remember that magnesium is an essential nutrient with many health benefits and that most Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet. The recommendations I have made for optimizing magnesium status are common-sense recommendations that apply to all of us.

 

The Case For Holistic Supplementation

 

magnesium optimize vitamin d case for holistic supplementationThis study is one of many examples showing that a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to a “magic bullet” approach where you take individual nutrients to solve individual problems. For example, in the case of magnesium and vitamin D:

  • If you asked most nutrition experts and supplement manufacturers whether it is important to provide magnesium along with vitamin D, their answer would likely be “No”. Even if they are focused on bone health, they would be more likely to recommend calcium along with vitamin D than magnesium along with vitamin D.
  • If your doctor has tested your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and recommended a vitamin D supplement, chances are they didn’t also recommend that you optimize your magnesium status.
  • Clinical studies investigating the benefits of vitamin D supplementation never ask whether magnesium intake is optimal.

That’s because most doctors and nutrition experts still think of nutrients as “magic bullets.” I cover holistic supplementation in detail in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths.”  Other examples that make a case for holistic supplementation that I cover in my book include:

  • A study showing that omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins may work together to prevent cognitive decline. Unfortunately, most studies looking at the effect of B vitamins on cognitive decline have not considered omega-3 status and vice versa. No wonder those studies have produced inconsistent results.
  • Studies looking at the effect of calcium supplementation on loss of bone density in the elderly have often failed to include vitamin D, magnesium, and other nutrients that are needed for building healthy bone. They have also failed to include exercise, which is essential for building healthy bone. No wonder some of those studies have failed to find an effect of calcium supplementation on bone density.
  • A study reported that selenium and vitamin E by themselves might increase prostate cancer risk. Those were the headlines you might have seen. The same study showed Vitamin E and selenium together did not increase prostate cancer risk. Somehow that part of the study was never mentioned.
  • A study reported that high levels of individual B vitamins increased mortality slightly. Those were the headlines you might have seen. The same study showed that when the same B vitamins were combined in a B complex supplement, mortality decreased. Somehow that observation never made the headlines.
  • A 20-year study reported that a holistic approach to supplementation produced significantly better health outcomes.

In summary, vitamins and minerals interact with each other to produce health benefits in our bodies. Some of those interactions we know about. Others we are still learning about. When we take high doses of individual vitamins and minerals, we create potential problems.

  • We may not get the full benefit of the vitamin or mineral we are taking because some other important nutrient(s) may be missing from our diet.
  • Even worse, high doses of one vitamin or mineral may interfere with the absorption or enhance the excretion of another vitamin or mineral. That can create deficiencies.

The same principles apply to our diet. I mentioned earlier that whole grains and legumes are among the best dietary sources of magnesium. Eliminating those two foods from the diet increases our risk of becoming magnesium deficient. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any time you eliminate foods or food groups from the diet, you run the risk of creating deficiencies of nutrients, phytonutrients, specific types of fiber, and the healthy gut bacteria that use that fiber as their preferred food source.

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study suggests that optimal magnesium status may be important for optimizing 25-hydroxyvitamin D status. This is one of many examples showing that a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to a “magic bullet” approach where you take individual nutrients to solve individual problems. For example, in the case of magnesium and vitamin D:

  • If you asked most nutrition experts and supplement manufacturers whether it is important to provide magnesium along with vitamin D, their answer would likely be “No.”  Even if they are focused on bone health, they would be more likely to recommend calcium along with vitamin D than magnesium along with vitamin D.
  • If your doctor has tested your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and recommended a vitamin D supplement, chances are he or she did not also recommend that you optimize your magnesium status.
  • Clinical studies investigating the benefits of vitamin D supplementation never ask whether magnesium intake is optimal. That may be why so many of those studies have failed to find any benefit of vitamin D supplementation.

I cover holistic supplementation in detail in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths” and provide several other examples where a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to taking individual supplements.

In summary, vitamins and minerals interact with each other to produce health benefits in our bodies. Some of those interactions we know about. Others we are still learning about. Whenever we take high doses of individual vitamins and minerals, we create potential problems.

  • We may not get the full benefit of the vitamin or mineral we are taking because some other important nutrient(s) may be missing from our diet.
  • Even worse, high doses of one vitamin or mineral may interfere with the absorption or enhance the excretion of another vitamin or mineral. That can create deficiencies.

The same principles apply to what we eat. For example, whole grains and legumes are among the best dietary sources of magnesium. Eliminating those two foods from the diet increases our risk of becoming magnesium deficient. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any time you eliminate foods or food groups from the diet, you run the risk of creating deficiencies.

For more details about the current study and what it means to you read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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