Type 1 Diabetes

Also indexed as:Diabetes, Type 1
Also known as childhood-onset diabetes, type 1 diabetes requires regular blood sugar tests and medical intervention. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Type 1 Diabetes: Main Image

About This Condition

Diabetes mellitus is an inability to metabolize carbohydrates resulting from inadequate insulin production or utilization. Other forms of diabetes (such as diabetes insipidus) are not included in this discussion.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus, type 1 and type 2. This article concerns type 1 diabetes, which has also been called childhood-onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make the insulin needed to process glucose. Natural therapies cannot cure type 1 diabetes, but they may help by making the body more receptive to insulin supplied by injection. It is particularly critical for people with type 1 diabetes to work carefully with the doctor prescribing insulin before contemplating the use of any herbs, supplements, or dietary changes mentioned in this article. Any change that makes the body more receptive to insulin could require critical changes in insulin dosage that must be determined by the treating physician.

People with diabetes cannot properly process glucose, a sugar the body uses for energy. As a result, glucose stays in the blood, causing blood glucose to rise. At the same time, however, the cells of the body can be starved for glucose. People with diabetes are at high risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, cataracts, retinopathy, stroke, poor wound healing, infections, and damage to the kidneys and nerves.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Everyone with diabetes aged 6 months and older should get a seasonal flu shot. Close household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of people with diabetes should also get the vaccines. People can receive both flu shots at the same time.1

Unusually rapid weight gain in infancy has been associated with a one-and-a-half-fold increase in the risk of developing type 1 diabetes in childhood.2 Being overweight also increases the need for insulin. Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes should achieve and maintain appropriate body weight.

People with type 1 diabetes who engage in regular exercise require less insulin.3 However, in the short term, exercise can induce low blood sugar or even occasionally increased blood sugar.4 Moreover, a preliminary study has shown that long-term physical activity was not associated with control of blood glucose in people with type 1 diabetes.5 Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes should never begin an intensive exercise program without consulting a healthcare professional.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes limit their daily alcohol consumption to one drink for women and two drinks for men.6 Similar to research on healthy people, preliminary studies in adults with diabetes find reduced risk of heart disease with light to moderate drinking.7 Drinking alcohol with type 1 diabetes can result in hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, depending on the circumstances, but moderate amounts of alcohol ingested with food does not affect blood glucose levels.8 People with diabetes who drink two or more drinks per day were reported to have a high risk for eye damage in one preliminary study,9 but another, larger study found no association between alcohol use and eye damage.10

People with diabetes who smoke are at higher risk for kidney damage,11heart disease,12 and other diabetes-linked problems. Smokers are also more likely to develop diabetes,13 so it's important for diabetic smokers to quit.

Most healthcare providers agree on the necessity of self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) by people with type 1 diabetes. Advocates of SMBG, such as the ADA, have observed that SMBG by people with diabetes has revolutionized management of the disease, enabling them to achieve and maintain specific goals.14 These observations are well-supported in the medical literature.15 Detractors point out that indiscriminate use of self-monitoring is of questionable value and adds enormously to healthcare costs.16 The ADA acknowledges that accuracy of SMBG is instrument- and technique-dependent. Errors in technique and inadequate use of control procedures have been shown to lead to inaccurate test results.17 Nevertheless, it is likely that self-monitoring of blood glucose, if used properly, can have a positive effect by increasing patient involvement in overall diabetes care.18 Pharmacists and healthcare practitioners can teach people with diabetes certain skills that will enhance their ability to properly self-manage blood glucose.

Holistic Options

Acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of diabetes, or complications associated with diabetes. In a preliminary trial, 77% of people suffering from diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) experienced significant reduction in pain following up to six acupuncture treatments over a ten-week period. Many were also able to reduce pain medications, but no long-term change in blood-sugar control was observed.19 Bladder control problems, a complication of long-term diabetes, responded to acupuncture treatment with a significant reduction in symptoms in both controlled and uncontrolled trials.20, 21

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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.

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