Podcast 130: Accessible Herbalism for Diabetes

Diabetes is very common and can lead to a number of serious health issues. Holistic methods can improve diabetes by correcting what’s wrong at the source: too much sugar in the blood. These methods will include making changes to the diet – reducing sugar and refined carbs, getting more vegetables – as well as building more movement into your day.

Working with herbs for diabetes doesn’t have to be difficult. Simple common spices and herbs you may already have in your kitchen can help out a lot! Herbs can improve your blood sugar regulation, and your blood circulation – and herbs can reduce sugar cravings, too! Listen in to learn how to get started today.

Herbs discussed include: cinnamon, tulsi, parsley, mulberry, blueberry/bilberry.

This is part 2 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.

We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:

Mutual Aid Resources

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:17):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:18):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:18):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:24):
And on the internet everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcasts and the rest of the internet. Yeah.

Katja (00:30):
All right. Well, I’m really excited. This is part two of a series of strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially health concerns that we see in under resourced areas.

Ryn (00:46):
Yeah. And our goals with this series are to offer some community verbal information in an accessible and inclusive way, so that people can take some action to support their own health.

Katja (00:56):
In many cases there simply isn’t accessible medical care available. And in other cases, the medical care that is available is so understaffed, that even though they’re working hard and, and doing their best, it is difficult to get quality care. So we want to provide some tools that will fill in this gap. This is not medical advice. This is safe, accessible self care strategies that will help improve healthcare or health outcomes. We believe that all people have the right to accessible high quality health care, and we want all people to also have the tools to take care of themselves as well.

Ryn (01:38):
Yeah. So our plan here is to work with a relatively small number of easy to find, abundant, inexpensive herbs. So, you’re going to notice that the same plants are going to turn up in multiple episodes of our series here. There are other plants that can work well, too. And if you know herbs in your area or in your tradition that can work well for these problems, then absolutely work with them, you know. But we focused on ones that we’re very familiar with, that we have a lot of experience with, and that are effective and that are accessible most places in this country and lots of other countries too, while we’re at it.

Katja (02:14):
Yeah. We’ve also chosen herbs that are generally safe and generally don’t have interactions with pharmaceutical medications unless we specifically noted. So any place that there is a concern about a particular herb if a person is taking a particular medication, we’ve been sure to make a note of that.

Ryn (02:35):
So you can check out commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid to see the whole series and a bunch of accompanying resources and documents that we’ve put together for everybody.

Katja (02:46):
And a printable version of this work is going to be available at the end of the series, along with information on how to start a community health collective. We’re making all of this information available free to all people, because we want all people to have these skills.

Ryn (03:04):
Yeah. And if you would like to support the work, then you can do that too. And just check out Commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid for info on how to do it.

Katja (03:13):
All right. Well, before we kick off this week’s topic, which is diabetes and prediabetes and suspected diabetes or diabetes is running in the family, right? Everything around diabetes. Before we jump into that let’s do our reclaimer.

Ryn (03:29):
Yeah. So it goes like this. We’re not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (03:35):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different, so the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to to research further and to think about.

Ryn (03:59):
Yeah, that’s the idea. And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. And by that we mean that the final decision, when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed by some herbalists on the internet or prescribed by your friendly local physician, that choice is always yours. All right. So let’s talk about diabetes.

Katja (04:20):
Yes. Let’s start off talking a little bit about what diabetes is. We hear so much about it. But it’s going to be easier to do some work, to support your body through diabetes, or even to start to roll back some of the effects of diabetes, if you understand what’s actually going on in your body when you have it. So the first thing to understand is that diabetes builds over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to happen. And if you catch it early, you can actually turn it around. Of course, it’s best to start when you just suspect that you might have diabetes, or if you know that it runs in your family, because at that point you still actually have the chance to stop it. Maybe even completely, if you are really successful in making some changes. But even if you already have diabetes, and if you already have to take medication for it, there’s still a lot that we can do to reduce the severity and to reduce the other negative effects that it can have in your body. So that’s worth talking about.

What is Diabetes?

Ryn (05:29):
Yeah. So let’s start with some understanding about what’s going on inside the body, right? So diabetes is when insulin isn’t working well, isn’t working properly inside of your body. Insulin is a hormone. And its particular job is to move digested food and the nutrients from it into your cells so that they have what they need, and especially enough fuel to burn as energy. So whenever you eat food, it gets broken down. And it gets moved into your bloodstream to deliver the nutrients and the energy to all the cells in your body. Food gets broken down into small parts. And in order to be healthy, we need a little bit of everything, right? We need some protein, we need some fats, we need some vitamins and some minerals. And we even need a little bit of sugar, but our current diets have way too much sugar by a lot. And so instead of getting our sugar from things like fruit or even honey, instead we’re getting a lot of refined sugar, which means that it’s really concentrated. And there’s a lot more of it than you could ever find in nature. If you were running around and plucking apples off of trees and hunting down animals and digging up tubers and stuff, you would never encounter this much sugar.

Katja (06:50):
Right. It takes a lot of blueberries to equal the amount of sugar in one cupcake.

Ryn (06:53):
Yeah. So our environment has changed. And by that, I mean our food environment, you know, as a species. Things were really different for a large part of our evolutionary history, and that’s what shaped our physiology, and you could say what the body expects to be getting. And so what we’re getting now is really, really quite different. So, you know, all of this broken down food or this digested food, absorbed food, nutrients and things that goes into the bloodstream to get delivered into the cells. And that’s insulin’s job. When you eat a lot of sugar, you need to make a lot of extra insulin to do that job. And it takes more insulin to deliver sugar to those cells than it does to deliver some protein. Right? So if you eat a steak, you might get some insulin activity, but not very much compared to eating some pancakes. So, eventually, if you keep getting lots of sugar and lots of bready things, and carby foods, generally you are going to be demanding a lot of insulin production from your body. And at some point you may not be able to make that much. You may not be able to make enough to keep up with what you’re eating. And then that means that you’re not going to be able to get the sugar from the blood into the cells of the body, into your organs and into your tissues where it’s really supposed to be. And so, you’re not going to have it there to burn as fuel. And then too much of that sugar is going to stay there in the blood. And sugar in the blood is actually a problem because it can damage your organs over time. And it can also take any existing spots of inflammation that are present in your body, and it’s like throwing gasoline onto a fire. It can make those flare up and become really problematic. So maybe, you know, all of us develop a little inflammation as we go through our day, when you’re standing and walking around in your hips, or if you’re sitting there at your desk, then in your back and in your knees and places. There’s some inflammation just developing a little bit through the day. But normally we would sort like clear it away as we move around and walk, and also as we sleep at night. But nowadays, you know, we spend a lot of time with that. We’ve got a lot of little pockets of inflammation and we’ve got all that sugar in the blood not getting cleared out well, stoking those fires, making them burn hot and causing a lot of problems. So, you know, if you’re at this stage with the development of diabetes, then you’re going to be having some problems, right? And you’re going to need medication, or you’re going to need to inject insulin or take insulin in order to keep on moving that sugar out of your blood, right? You take the insulin because you can’t make enough for yourself. And without it, you would die or you would be very, very sick.

Katja (09:38):
So again, to be really clear, this happens over time. You don’t immediately stop being able to make enough insulin. It takes time for your body to wear out it’s insulin making capacity, right? So you can sort of think about it, just like your own self, you can do a lot of work in a day. And tomorrow you could do a lot of work too. But if you do it every day with no break for a long time, eventually you’re going to get sick, or you’re going to get tired, or you’re just going to say, I just can’t do this anymore. And so your pancreas, that’s where you make insulin in your body, is sort of in exactly the same boat. If we need to make this much insulin every single day, eventually your pancreas is going to say, Hey, you want to know what? I’m done with this. I can’t do this anymore. So that takes time to get to. And if we can catch it before the pancreas completely gives up, before it says, you’re on your own. I’m not going to do this for you anymore. If we can catch it before that point, we can turn a lot of this around. So it is best to start these thing when you suspect diabetes, when you know that diabetes runs in your family. Because at that point you can still stop it. But even if you’ve already started, even if you’re already to that point where your pancreas has completely given up, and you have to take insulin in order to live your life every day, these strategies can mean that you need less insulin. You’re still going to have to take it every day, but it might allow you to take a little bit less, which is more affordable, and also more sustainable, right? If you need less every day, then the insulin that you have will last longer.

Ryn (11:36):
Right. And that would apply if you were taking insulin or also if you’re taking Metformin or one of the other drugs that are given to folks with diabetes to try to help insulin work better. In a lot of cases it’s what those drugs are doing. But again, even in those cases, we can still work with the same strategies. And it can help to reduce the dose of that drug that’s necessary. And, you know, by doing that, you would reduce the side effects from it. Which, you know, there’s always going to be some of those, right? And, look, even aside from all of that, there are still plenty of good reasons to work with these strategies if you’re already medicated. There are lots of good, important reasons to do it because diabetes has impacts on your body aside from just this problem of too much sugar in the blood, or too much inflammation going on. Diabetes makes you more likely to get cardiovascular disease, to get kidney disease, to have nerve issues. And really a lot of other things can result from this problem with the function of insulin in your body.

Katja (12:40):
You know, even right now, as coronavirus and COVID-19 is going around, we’re seeing that people who have diabetes are at much greater risk if they get coronavirus.

Ryn (12:54):
Yeah, and it’s not by any means just that. This would apply to the common flu and the common cold and lots of other kinds of infectious illnesses. They’re just harder for your body to fight off when you’re in this state of trouble, difficulty managing blood sugar levels internally.

Katja (13:12):
Again, we can go back to that example of if you’re working really hard, working too hard, harder than what you really should be working every day, day in and day out, other parts of your life suffer. Maybe the dishes can’t get done and the laundry can’t get done. And there’s so many things that you can’t do. And even just, you can’t go to sleep. There’s so much that you can’t do because you’re working so hard. So things start to kind of unravel in your life. And it is the exact same in your body when you have diabetes. Things, even that aren’t related to insulin, start to unravel because your body’s working way too hard just to deal with the food that you eat.

First Food: Lower Carbs

Ryn (13:56):
Yeah. All right. So let’s look at some actions to take. And first we’re going to chat a bit about food, and then we’re going to talk a bit about movement and then we’ll move right on into the herbs. So, food is very important for people who have diabetes, or are at risk of diabetes, or sort of like nudging up against diabetes a little bit. Because food is a really big part of the way that diabetes develops in the first place. So we know that sugars and refined carbohydrates, that’s things like bread and chips and cake and pretzels, all of those kinds of things. We know that eating a lot of those things over time leads to diabetes and causes diabetes to occur. If we can eat less of those things, well, first of all, that means less insulin that your body has to produce. And that reduces the workload on your body in case you’ve already got diabetes. You’re demanding less insulin production from your poor exhausted pancreas.

Katja (14:52):
Yeah. Give your pancreas a break.

Ryn (14:54):
So if you suspect diabetes, or if it runs in your family, this is a big part of the way that we’re going to stop that cycle. Diabetes is a response to that food environment. What’s available around us? What are the things that we buy most often, the things that we eat most often. Diabetes is a response to that as your environment. And not just on one day. If you have a birthday cake, that’s not the thing that gave you the diabetes in one moment, it’s the day to day kind of situations. So if we can give our body a different set of foods, a different set of signals, a different environment each day to respond to it, then you’re not going to need to respond with all that extra insulin and this diabetes expression. You can reduce your chances of getting it. You can reduce the severity of it just by changing what you eat.

Katja (15:45):
Now, if you’re already taking medication, changing your food can allow you to reduce the amount of medication that you require. And so we want to be very consistent, because that reduction is actually a good thing. If you are a diabetic, you will probably need that medication for your whole life. But if you need less of it, that’s better. So this can be a very effective strategy, but it can be so effective that it’s really important that you test your glucose levels every day if you are already taking medication. And the reason is because when you test every day, you will see when you need to make a change. You will see those blood glucose numbers coming down. And once they start to come down, let’s say, you’re taking your glucose numbers first thing in the morning before you have anything to eat. When those numbers start coming down, down below 120, 110, even down to a 100, it’s going to be time to talk to your doctor and say: Hey, look, I’ve made a lot of changes in what I eat. And my blood glucose number is coming down. I think it’s time for us to change my medication. It’s going to be important for you to tell your doctor that when it happens.

Ryn (17:09):
Especially if you make big changes, right? If you go and you knock out all of the processed food and all of the added sugars and all of that from your diet all at once. For a lot of Americans and plenty of other countries in the world, too, that would be a really big diet change. And that can lead to healthy, good shifts in your body. But it does require this kind of monitoring and care.

Katja (17:34):
I mean, that would be fantastic, right? If you could do that, it’s difficult. It’s difficult to make big changes in what you eat, because food isn’t just fuel to run our body. Food is emotional. Food is joyous. It’s what we share with our community. It’s comfort sometimes too. And so it’s understandable. It’s hard to make changes in the diet. But when you can do it and do it consistently, it is going to reduce so many of the effects that diabetes has on your body, and really make you so much better able to survive much longer and much more comfortably with diabetes.

Ryn (18:16):
All right. So how are we going to do it? How are we going to change the food so that we don’t get diabetes in the first place or so that our diabetes becomes less severe? Well, the key thing here is that we’re looking for lower carbs. You’ve probably heard people say that, Oh, I’ve got too much carbs in my diet. I got to cut out carbs. I’m going to carb fast, whatever. So what this means, practically speaking, is going to be like this. First, we’re looking to avoid sugar, wherever we can. Anytime there’s added sugar, any of your own sugar that you add on to stuff, we’re trying to avoid that. We’re also looking at things that are mainly sugar. So soda is probably at the top of the list there. Soday is some sugary water with some fizz in it and some flavors. And that’s delicious, but it’s not good for your body.

Katja (18:59):
You know, there are other drinks that have a lot of sugar too. I’m thinking about coffee drinks that are very sweet. They’re delicious. Don’t get me wrong. But they are also almost entirely sugar, so removing that as well.

Ryn (19:14):
Yeah. And when it’s juice, when it’s just the juice, just the sugar water out of plants, that’s actually still pretty sugary. So, if you think about it this way: how many apples do you have to squeeze to get a big, tall glass of juice? And would you have eaten that many apples today, actually? So when it comes to fruit, fruit is excellent, a good thing to consume even for diabetics. That’s not the sugar we’re worried about here. But when you squeeze all the sugar and the water out of a plant and throw away all the fibers and the antioxidants and all the other good stuff from that plant, it’s not really the same thing. So we are looking to cut down on juice intake as well. We’re trying to avoid candy and ice cream and obvious sweets in that way. We’re looking to avoid fast food, because you would be shocked at all of the weird things that sugar gets into when it’s in fast food. Like the buns on the burgers have a bunch of sugar in them. The ketchup has an enormous amount of sugar in it. Things that you wouldn’t expect at all, you wouldn’t identify as beings as being sweet or sugary

Katja (20:19):
Well, and french fries aren’t sweet, but your body still sees them as sugar. Anything that’s very bready or starchy, your body breaks that down very, very easily into sugar inside you. So even though french fries don’t taste sweet, the body still interprets that as sugar.

Ryn (20:41):
Yeah. And that’s particularly true when the thing, whatever it was, was made into a flour before it was baked up. And yeah, that would actually apply to some fries out there too. It’s like reconstituted potato flour.

Katja (20:56):
Yeah. And also things like bread. Bread has a lot of sugar in it too. If you just buy bread at the store, there’s actually a lot of sugar in it. But it’s made out of flour. It’s a very starchy, bready thing that your body, when it breaks down, it’s just straight sugar in the body. So bread, baked goods, chips, crackers pita bread, or tortillas, all of these things we want to try to remove from the diet as much as possible. And the more successful you are at removing these things consistently every day from your diet, the bigger impact you will have on your health.

Ryn (21:40):
Yeah. And we’re looking in general to reduce our intake of grains and starchy foods. So we’d be cutting down on things like rice and potato, and having more veggies to take up that space, to make up that space. So, that’s a good guideline too, is to say that when you eat, you’re looking to mostly have vegetables and meats. Fruits qualify too, to a whole plant food kind of range there. A little bit of rice or potato is okay. A tortilla now and then is all right. But we’re trying to avoid bread and chips and all of that every meal, every day, all the time trying to get away from it.

Katja (22:23):
Now, rice is so much a part of so many traditional foods. And you don’t have to never eat rice, but try to keep rice to a small serving size. If you ask the food people, the USDA or the nutritionists or whatever, they will say that a serving size of cooked rice is one half a cup. So that’s about the same size as one of those cupcake papers. Not the whole crazy big cupcakes, but just when you made cupcakes when you were a kid.

Ryn (23:01):
Just the little paper.

Katja (23:01):
Yeah. The little paper cup. It’s about that size. So if you were to have a half a cup of rice at dinner with your meal, that’s an okay amount of rice. Or a half a potato, half a sweet potato, that’s going to be an amount of carbs that your body can handle. You could have that at a meal. Also the rice, when it is actually rice, when it is whole, or the potato itself, there’s more in there than just ground up flour. So there’s more for your body to work with. More vitamins are still in there, more minerals, and more fibers. When we grind it into flour, we break all those up, and it just moves through the body much too quickly. So rice, when it is still rice, that’s not that bad. A half a cup at dinner is fine. A potato, a sweet potato, fine. But we’re trying to avoid things like pasta, things like bread. I’m thinking about so many delicious things like empanadas and french toast and all kinds of things that are really, really delicious. But if we just keep them for holidays, for example. We can think traditionally we didn’t necessarily have those foods every single day throughout history. So maybe we just keep those fancy things for fancy, and we just have them on the holidays, for example.

Ryn (24:36):
So, if you can let a large portion of your plate, like half of your plate, to be things like greens, beets, some salads, some onions, some cabbage, all of that kind of stuff. If that can be half of your plate, you’re going to be in a good place. And that can be a useful kind of a guideline to use for yourself rather than like, I have to measure the amount of rice I got. Make half of your plate a whole pile of veggies first, and then you won’t have a whole lot of room for all of this kind of carby stuff.

Katja (25:05):
Yes. Plus it isn’t just that vegetables crowd out the carbs, also vegetables are actively helping you. They reduce inflammation, they reduce the damage that all that sugar does in your body. So not only when you fill your plate halfway full with vegetables, and it can be frozen broccoli. Any vegetable that you like is fine. But when you fill half your plate with a vegetable, then you’re not only not eating half a plate full of bread, but you are eating something that is actually helping your body. So it’s like two for one.

Ryn (25:45):
Yeah, for sure. Right. And then always make sure that you get some protein some chicken, some fish, some other meat that you like, and some healthy fats, whether that’s coming from the, from the animal foods, or if it’s something like avocado or a little bit of olive oil, stuff like that. So try to have a nice well-rounded plate, but we are diminishing the amount of carbs that we take in. Again, think about the drinks too, because this is a place where people get a lot of sugar into their body and aren’t always aware of it. But if you can cut out soda and drink some herbal tea instead, that’ll help a ton. And we’re going to have some specific herbs to mention in just a moment after we chat about movement.

Movement: Move More and Build Muscle

Katja (26:22):
Yes. Now moving is going to be really important. Here. We talked about movement when we were talking about cardiovascular health. And because diabetes is so tied in with cardiovascular health, you will see some of the same themes here. But there are some other really important factors for diabetes that movement plays a critical role in. So this is really, really important. The first thing is simply to walk more. One of the big problems that comes along with diabetes is called peripheral neuropathy. And that means that you can’t feel your feet, or maybe they get numb or tingly, or even a little bit burn-y. That can happen in the hands too, but it’s very common in the feet. Many people with diabetes will get a cut on their foot and they don’t know it because they really can’t feel their feet very well anymore. And then that cut gets infected and sometimes toes or other parts of the feet actually have to be cut off because the infection gets bad enough. And the person doesn’t know that the infection is there because the nerves aren’t working right anymore. So that is something that we really want to avoid. And one of the best ways to keep this from happening is…well, obviously to look at your feet every day to see if you have a cut, of course. But let’s not even get that far. One of the best ways to keep the nerves in your feet working is to keep moving around. Even if you move slowly, even if you move just a little bit at a time and then rest, and then a little bit at a time. It doesn’t matter how gracefully you do it or how slowly you do it. The important thing is just to keep moving. Because when you move, your blood can circulate better. Your blood will get all the way down to your feet and come back up again. When you’re just sitting, you know, sometimes your legs fall asleep. If you’re sitting down for a long time or even if you sort of have your hand in a position for awhile, sometimes your hand or your arm will fall asleep. When you experience that, it means that the blood is not moving through that area. And so that feeling of your leg falling asleep, that’s actually your nerves and other cells in the area that are not getting any oxygen. And so it’s almost like they’re holding their breath for a really long time. And then they start to get a little dizzy. And you feel that as tingliness or numbness. So when you move around the blood circulates better and your nerves don’t go numb because they’re getting enough food and they’re getting enough oxygen. So again, it doesn’t have to be a fancy workout.

Ryn (29:26):
That’s right. You could just take a walk a few times a day. And it’s okay if you walk slow. It’s okay if you can just walk around one block, that’s totally fine. Just do what you can. And take it a few times a day and get the blood moving. Don’t think about this so much as I need to go and have a big intense workout and get hot and sweaty. That’s a different kind of a workout. That’s a different kind of a goal there. For this we’re thinking just about keeping that blood circulating and moving. And so with that, the strategy of actually breaking up your movement into multiple small bouts over the day rather than one big bout in one part of the day, is actually going to be better here. So, if you could set an alarm for yourself to get up every couple of hours and take a little walk around the block, that would be great. If you have a job that includes breaks at any time, then getting some movement and some walking, a little stretching, swinging your legs a bit during those times can be really important to get that blood moving. But the idea is to get little bouts of movement a few minutes, each time, but many, many times throughout the course of each day. And as you get better at walking, you might be able to get yourself a little bit further each time.

Katja (30:43):
Now, if you have a job where you move a lot all day long, this won’t be such a concern for you. You’re already moving all day. So that’s really excellent. But the flip side of that, if you, or the person that you’re working with, can’t walk, that’s okay. If they can move their legs at all, maybe they don’t feel confident or feel like their balance is good enough to walk, but while they’re sitting in a chair or while they’re laying down, they can still move their legs around. Then do that, Whatever kind of movement you can do. If you’re sitting in a chair and you can just put your legs out straight and put them back down again, you maybe one at a time, great. If you’re laying in a bed and you can roll your legs around side to side, whatever kind of movement you can do, it’s going to be very helpful. And then also if the weight of the leg is too heavy to do, someone can help, right? If somebody just helps to lift the leg, then that’ll take some of the weight off so that it is easier for you to move the legs around. And if the person that you’re working with or you yourself can’t walk or even move your legs, then someone else can move the legs for you. Just to help get the drainage, like to prop the legs up so that at least fluids are draining back down. And even just rubbing the legs gently can help to move the fluids around. And then of course you can move your arms.

Ryn (32:20):
Move the rest of you.

Katja (32:20):
Move any part of you that you can move, any part of your body that can be moved regularly at a slow pace. Even if you’re just waving around your arms, any amount of movement that you do is going to help get the blood moving and is going to reduce the amount of damage that you have. And the more that you do it, you might even be able to undo some damage that has already happened

Ryn (32:47):
Right on. So yeah, keep that blood circulating. That’s our one goal. And again, more walking or gentle movement like that interspersed multiple times a day, that’s the key strategy for keeping the blood moving. So the next strategy here is to build muscle. And if you can, if working out, if lifting heavy things, if doing exercises that build muscle is accessible to you, then this is really worth doing. Building muscle helps to control your blood sugar levels, both to prevent the blood sugar from getting too high, and to prevent it from getting too low. Because muscles are able to pull sugar out of the blood without any insulin getting involved at all. So if your muscles do this job for you, you don’t need to make as much insulin, right? If you’ve got more muscle on your body, you don’t actually need insulin to get that sugar out of the bloodstream, into the cells where it belongs, because the muscle is helping out with that job. So that means your diabetes isn’t going to be as severe. Now, to build muscle it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the gym every day or even at all. And with this a 30 minute workout twice a week is going to be plenty. For the vast, vast majority of everybody who wants to build some muscle on their body, 30 minutes, twice a week, that will do the job. If there isn’t time for that, or if 30 minutes at a stretch is too difficult right now, then you can start with a 10 minute workout. Start with something small like that. And you don’t have to go to the gym. Really we’re just looking to find something heavy and to move it around. And heavy means whatever feels like a weight to you without being a weight that’s going to hurt you when you try to pick it up and to move it around. So maybe that’s like a, I don’t know, a nice big can of soup. And you’re just moving that around like this. And I don’t know, do that for five minutes and tell me your arm doesn’t get tired. It could be like a kid that you pick up and hold them in the air and put them back down. They’ll enjoy it. And you’ll get stronger.

Katja (34:50):
Yes. You don’t need any kind of special equipment. Vacuuming is a workout. Sweeping is a workout.

Ryn (34:57):
Yeah. Yard work.

Katja (34:58):
Yeah. You can go out and sweep the sidewalk every day, whatever. But all of those things, when you’re done, you feel it. You feel it in your muscles. And that’s what we want. That feeling is telling you that you are building muscle. Now, listen, you don’t have to look like a bodybuilder. You don’t have to have great big muscles to have muscle. But if you just pick something up a few times a day, even if it’s just a can of soup, whatever is the right weight for you to be safe. Any amount of muscle that you build is going to do this for you. It is going to suck that sugar right out of your blood with no insulin needed. So it’s going to make the job of getting rid of that sugar easier throughout your whole body.

Ryn (35:49):
Yeah. Now look, if you do feel pretty physically competent and able to move and to work out, then let those 30 minute workouts twice a week, be intense. Get those little like high intensity workout videos from YouTube fired up and do that. I find it’s good with this to focus on body weight exercise, because you’re way less likely to hurt yourself. It’s easy to overdo it with weights or to get one up and then realize that you have trouble getting it back down. But when you’re moving your body weight it’s a lot harder to hurt yourself. So things like pushups and squats, pull-ups if you can find a bar or a friendly tree branch or something like that. Those basic movements, you don’t need anything more complicated than that. Honestly if you take a walk through the woods and go off trail, you’ll step over things, you’ll climb over piles. You’ll move around on all fours, maybe. Let the terrain drive your workout. That can be another way to come at it. So there’s lots of options for this, many different scales of intensity and everything, but push your body a little bit. Try and get that heavy breathing going. Try and get that feeling of some “ah, I did it” soreness the next day. And you’ll know that you’re in the right direction.

Katja (37:02):
Now, if you have kids at home, and if diabetes runs in your family, then let’s protect your kids right from the start. And everybody can be doing movement together. You can every morning set up a new obstacle course in your house. And you don’t need anything fancy to do this. Just use some of your kids’ toys that are laying around, and lay them around in strategic ways so that you have to crawl through this part and then jump over the fire engine toy. And then maybe we’re going to climb up onto the sofa and crawl across it and climb down in a very awkward and funny way. And maybe you’re going to crawl under the table and then you’re going to jump up and touch the ceiling, whatever. If you’re home with kids and this runs in your family, this is a great way that you can start a little tradition in your family. And your kids will love that you do this with them. And you will be setting your kids up for a healthier life and protecting them from diabetes right from the start, which is really important.

Ryn (38:12):
Yeah. And this kind of thing is sort of like we were talking about changing your food environment, changing what kind of foods are around, the kind of snacks that you reach for and all of that. Changing what’s around you makes it a lot easier to change what goes into you. Right?

Katja (38:24):
Right. Just don’t have those things in your house.

Ryn (38:27):
Yeah. And changing what is around in your house can also change the way you move. So if you put in a little obstacle course, you’ll step sideways, you’ll jump over the thing, just because it’s there it’ll happen. If you don’t have so many chairs around, you might be more likely to sit on the floor. And getting down to the floor and getting back up again is both an indicator of how healthy you are. How you’re able to do that. How many points of support and things to hold you up you need. The fewer of those, the better. That means you’re healthier, more likely to live longer. But also that is part of a workout. If you if you sit down on the floor, stand up from there again. If that’s just part of how you go through your day. You’re like down on the floor, playing with the kids, sitting down with them. You’ve got to stand up somehow. That’s moving weight through space.

Katja (39:18):
Literally you could just stand in your living room and sit on the floor and stand up. And do that 10 times. You have done a little workout.

Ryn (39:28):
Yeah. So anyway, lots of options. All these things are going to help to build muscle. You don’t need to look like a bodybuilder. The more of those healthy muscles are in there underneath, they’ll suck up that blood sugar. You won’t need as much insulin. Okay. So we’ve got some food changes, we’ve got some movement changes. And now we’re going to think about some herbs that can help out with diabetes.

Herbs to Help: Cinnamon, Tulsi, Parsley, Mulberry/Blueberry

Katja (39:48):
Yes. So we have three super common herbs here and then a bonus set of herbs that are very available in some parts of the country where they grow. So let’s start off with what these herbs are and then we’ll talk about how they help in the body. The first one is cinnamon. And then we have tulsi, which is often called holy basil. We have parsley, which we were talking about before. And then we also have mulberry or blueberry. And for this, the berries or the leaves. Now these don’t grow in all parts of the country. And if you want to buy mulberries and blueberries or the leaves, it can be a little bit expensive. But they do grow in lots of parts of the country and mulberries even grow in a lot of cities. So, if you are in a place where they grow, then this could be something that’s very easy for you to get. So we want to include it because depending on where you are, this might be really easy to find.

Ryn (40:57):
Yeah, absolutely. The Mulberry trees, I see a lot of them in parks here in Boston. Sometimes it looks like maybe they were intentional, and other times they’re definitely volunteers. And sometimes that’s actually really handy because like a volunteer young tree might be about as tall as you are. It’s easier to get the leaves from that one than from a tree that’s 30 feet tall. So that’s nice.

Katja (41:21):
Now all of these plants are going to help your body to regulate blood sugar better, more efficiently. You can choose any of them based on what flavor you like best or which one is easiest for you to get. But they all also have some extra bonus things that they can do. So you might make a choice based on their bonus actions. So let’s talk about those a little bit. We can start with cinnamon. Now when you’re working with cinnamon, we’re looking for one to two teaspoons a day. That’s not really that much. That’s like, if you were going to have some apple sauce and you put a spoonful of cinnamon on top of the applesauce, that’s probably half a teaspoon. If you had that at breakfast and a dinner, there you go. You’ve got your cinnamon for the day.

Ryn (42:11):
Yeah. And that is a totally viable option for getting cinnamon into you. You could also take, I mean, with that amount of powder, it’s not like a whole tablespoon or something. So you could take that amount, put it in a half full mug, and stir it around a bit, and just slug it right back. You’ll get it in there. It should be manageable.

Katja (42:29):
Yeah. You also can make tea out of cinnamon. Now for this, I prefer cinnamon chips, or if you have cinnamon sticks to just break them up. But cinnamon tea is really tasty and also it has quite a bit of sweetness in it. So if you are trying to not eat any sugar and you’re craving something sweet, cinnamon tea is surprisingly sweet. So that could be really lovely. In fact, cinnamon can really help to curb the craving for sugar. If you’re craving sugar, cinnamon doesn’t just taste sweet and so you feel happy about it. It also changes the craving itself and makes it less strong. So that can be really nice.

Ryn (43:20):
Yeah, that’s always helpful. Make everything else a little bit easier. Cinnamon also helps to improve circulation. It gets the blood flowing throughout your body more broadly, more evenly than it would have been previously. It’s a really good choice if you have cold hands and feet all the time, or if you get numbness in your fingers or down in your toes or in your feet because of that blood moving effect that it has to get that blood out to where we need it. Cinnamon can also help a lot if you get slow sluggish digestion. You eat something and it feels like it just sits here in the stomach or down in the guts a little bit. Things are just not moving along. Then more cinnamon in your life will help with digestive stimulation, a carminative effect, we call it in herbalism. Well then next let’s think about tulsi. Tulsi, absolutely, is another one that helps out with cravings. Helps out with that psychological need for sugar which is driven by processes in the physical body. And tulsi helps out with those cravings in large part because it helps your body to its sugar more effectively. Keep the sugar where it belongs. Don’t keep it where it doesn’t belong. Get everything nice and sorted out and organized. And tulsi does this while also helping to reduce stress in a big, broad, general sense. Tulsi can help to boost your mood. So, if you’re feeling some depression or sluggishness or kind of black cloud emotional state, tulsi is a really good choice there. And again, when we’re thinking about making these diet changes, an herbs that can help you to feel calmer and can help to reduce cravings. Well, that sounds like a magic ticket, doesn’t it?

Katja (45:07):
Yeah. Now tulsi, it’s fine to get this in a teabag at the grocery store. It might be called holy basil. And it’s also fine to grow it yourself or to buy it in a big bag of dried loose leaf tea. However it is that you get it, about a quart a day is what we want. So if you’re working with teabags, you can take a mason jar, quart size mason jar. Put in four teabags and pour in the boiling water and let it sit. And now you have your whole quart and you can just drink that all day long. And it’ll help you a lot. You can drink more than a quart if you want to. If you just love the flavor, then feel free to drink more of it. And in fact tulsi and cinnamon together are also really tasty. So you could put in your four bags of tulsi tea, of holy basil tea, and a little bit of cinnamon stick broken up, maybe a half a cinnamon stick broken up in there as well. And that will make a really delicious tea. And again, a quart of that a day or more, if you love the flavor of it, and you’re not drinking soda anymore. Then you could have more and that would be really fine. But we just want to remember that these things are going to improve your body’s ability to manage blood sugar so well that if you are taking medication, it is very important that you test your blood glucose level every day. And as you see that number coming down, first off, pat yourself on the back. Because that’s what we’re looking for, that’s the effect that we want to have. But as soon as you’ve patted yourself on the back, then make sure that you talk to your doctor, so that when you need to change the dose of your medication, your doctor is ready to do that for you.

Ryn (47:08):
Yeah, for sure. We mentioned parsley last week when we were talking about cardiovascular health issues. And I think that we mentioned there that parsley does have an impact on blood sugar levels, to help to bring those down into more normal ranges. We see that effect for parsley when we’re getting like a quarter cup to a half a cup of chopped parsley per day. That’s the dose range that we’re looking for there. And remember that parsley also helps out with water retention, with bloating, with edema, which is swelling down in the legs or the ankles or up in the belly too. Any place where there’s that excess water hanging around in the body where it doesn’t really serve any good anymore. Parsley is going to help to get rid of that.

Katja (47:52):
And you can eat parsley. You can just put it in your salad. You can put it into cooked food if you don’t like the flavor of it. Put it in anything that has other spices, whether that’s chile or some kind of curry, whatever, and you won’t taste it nearly as much. Or you can make tea out of parsley as well. That’s fine too. If you want to do that, then a quart of tea a day. And I would say that if you’re making tea, you don’t necessarily need to chop up the parsley to make the tea from it. But still put in about the same amount in the Mason jar, in the quart size jar. So, a good handful of the leaves to put in there. It’s fine if the stems go in too, that’s no problem.

Ryn (48:48):
Yeah, for sure. All right. So then we had mentioned mulberry and blueberry. And this would also apply to bilberry if that happens to be your sort of local blueberry version. They’re basically the same plant. They just have different names depending on where they grow up. Anyway, so mulberry, that grows pretty abundantly in big parts of the country. It turns up in cities, turns up in parks and areas like that. And then blueberry, well, I mean, if you live in Maine then maybe you can head outside and find some blueberry patches you can visit.

Katja (49:22):
Yeah. I think there are lots of places. I mean, certainly throughout new England, but also I think all across the northern part of the country, there are places where if you just go out of the city a little bit, you’ll find plenty of wild blueberry plants. And the berries are wonderful. You can eat the berries as a substitute for sugary treats. And just like vegetables, not only are they satisfying, but they also are helping you. But the leaves themselves are also very, very helpful. And if you make tea out of blueberry leaves or Mulberry leaves, that can be very helpful for diabetes and prediabetes.

Ryn (50:08):
Yeah. And, you know with both of these, it’s just a matter of finding a tree or finding a bush. But they’re pretty abundant as far as leaf material goes. You could easily harvest what you need for a few days or for a week. A little basket, bring that home and not even see an impact on the tree or on the bushes. They’d be totally fine. This would be sustainable work. So you would want to just dry those leaves out, and chop them up a little bit, and then make tea like we’ve been saying. Ideally with this two cups of tea to a quart of tea per day, if we’re talking about blueberry or mulberry leaf. That would be sufficient. If we’re making a quart at once, you’re going to want to have like three or four heaping, rough tablespoons of those chopped up leaves in there. That’ll do the job.

Katja (51:00):
Yeah. You don’t have to dry the leaves before you make tea. But if you want to have enough to go through the winter, then you will need to dry some in order to do that.

Ryn (51:11):
Right. The leaves of the mulberry, and also of the blueberry and the bilberry, they’re a little bit astringent. They can help if there’s a leaky gut problem going on. It’s a really common digestive problem that I think we’ll be addressing in a future episode. They can also help if you’re somebody who’s prone to diarrhea when your guts get touchy. A little light astringency, it’s not too intense, but just enough to kind of keep things in place where they belong. And they can help a little bit with some of that water retention as well. These are much milder in that regard than the parsley is, but they will still help if that’s kind of your constitutional pattern.

Katja (51:52):
You know, in a lot of places you can buy frozen blueberries, and they can be more cost effective. Mulberries are pretty, in most parts of the country they’re going to be pretty expensive.

Ryn (52:05):
Yeah, mulberries, honestly, I’ve bought them once or twice. But mainly I wait until the trees are full of them, and then I climb the trees and eat as many as I can get.

Katja (52:15):
But blueberries, you can often get frozen at the grocery store for a pretty reasonable price. So if you are looking for a substitute where you might’ve had cookies or something like that, maybe frozen blueberries would be a great option. And again, the berry, itself, is providing so much benefit to your body in terms of reducing inflammation, reducing damage in the body, that it’s really worth it if you can get some.

Ryn (52:47):
For sure. So it’s okay to work with more than one of these. You don’t have to just pick one and get stuck to it. You can do that. That’s a nice way to really get to know an herb very well.

Katja (52:59):
And to build a habit where this is just what you do every single day. And that way you know for sure that you’re going to do it every day. That’s good.

Ryn (53:07):
Yeah. But if you want to combine, if you want to get some blueberry leaf, get some tulsi, put those together and drink that. That’s great. Feel free to do that. Just, again, make sure, say it one more time, just make sure if you’re taking diabetes medications, whether that’s insulin or Metformin or whatever else, that you’ve got to test those blood sugar levels frequently, to make sure that you can tell what’s going on in your system, and to see how it’s responding to these herbs. That can also be a way to just check that what you’re doing is worth your time, right? So if you try it, you’re taking one of these recommended doses for one of these plants, but it’s not moving the needle the way that you were hoping for, try a different strategy, try a combination of two or three herbs together, and see what gets you there. We always want to know that what we’re doing is actually working. And in this case, if you can test the blood glucose level, it’s a very direct indicator of success.

Don’t Forget the Food Changes

Katja (54:01):
Yes. Now these herbs are going to be super helpful, but the food changes are also super helpful. As long as you are eating a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrates, things that your body processes very quickly into sugar, then it’s sort of like the flooding is still happening, but you’ve got a bucket and you’re bailing it out. But the water is still coming in. So the herbs are like the bucket, right? If you’re taking the herbs, okay, you’re starting to bail yourself out now, so maybe you won’t sink. But if you change your food, even if it’s only a 50% improvement, that would be great. If it’s a 25% improvement, that’s fine. You’ve got to start somewhere. And so you could even say, okay, the first thing I’m going to do, I’m not going to change anything I eat. I’m just going to not have any snacks, just no snacks. Okay. I’m still going to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I always do first, just know snacks. Great. Once you get good at that, then you can start saying, now I’m going to change what I eat at breakfast, change what I eat at lunch, change what I eat at dinner. If you do this and really stick to it, then you’re stopping the damage coming in. And you’re taking some herbs, which is allowing you to bail out damage that has already been done. And you can really improve your overall health in a reasonably short amount of time. I mean, I would expect in a few months to start seeing big changes in your body.

Ryn (55:45):
Yeah. Sometimes faster. Keep that kind of timeline in mind for sure. And be consistent. Be consistent with your, with your food changes, with your diet changes, with your movement changes, and then also with your herbs too. That consistency makes a big difference. Now don’t go beating yourself up if you have a day where you stay at home and don’t go for your walk, or you eat some cake at a party or whatever. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re trying to be like the 80 20 rule. If you can do these things 80% of the time, that will make a huge, huge difference for you. Something like that.

Katja (56:24):
And it’s okay if it takes a little bit of time to ramp up. It is more important that the changes that you make stick, then that you make every single change very quickly. So pick one thing and do it until it sticks, and then do the next thing until it sticks. And if you can work through it that way, then you really will be able to make big changes.

Ryn (56:50):
Yeah. That’s the path. This problem, the diabetes, the issues that come with it, that developed over time. So give it a little time to un-develop it. You will definitely get there. Cool. All right. Well, I think that’s it for the week.

Katja (57:07):
That’s it for today. And we’ll see you next week. We’re going to be talking about edeman next week, specifically all by itself. That can be part of heart problems. It can be part of diabetes. There can be kidney issues involved. So this time so next week we’re going to talk just about edema, all the ways that that happens, and what you can do to help it. So we will see you then.

Ryn (57:32):
Yeah. So until then take care of yourselves, take care of each other, drink some tea and yeah, be good out there.

Katja (57:58):
Bye bye.

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