Sweet Ain't So Sweet

Fight Against the Sweet Poison and Diabetes

MALAYSIAN meals comprise mainly carbohydrates – rice, noodles, roti canai and cakes. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. When ingested, carbohydrates will break down into glucose and enters bloodstream from digestive tract, causing the blood glucose level raised. Under healthy condition, the pancreas will release hormone, insulin and helps cells throughout body to absorb glucose and use it for energy. Once glucose moves out of the blood into cells, blood glucose levels go back down to normal.

The problem with Malaysians is their intake of carbohydrates is higher than the recommended amount. According to Malaysian Adult Survey 2003 (MANS), Malaysian adults averagely consume 21 grams of table sugar daily. Increased intake of foods high in sugar content and excessive caloric intake is associated with the major factor contributing to the rise of diabetes.

The common thread that runs through all Malaysian cuisines is our love for rice.

Diabetes on the rise

Diabetes has become a Malaysian epidemic that poses a real and significant threat to individuals. Even more alarming, it’s now beginning to show up among teenagers and children as well. The number of diabetics in Malaysia has tripled in a span of two decades, from 6.3% in 1986 to 20.8% in 2011. These percentages are increasing year after year despite massive callings from Ministry of Health, asking people to reduce overweight problems, reduce sugar intake, reduce smoking, live a healthy and active lifestyle with healthier diets of fewer fats and more fruits and vegetables.

Sedentary and poor lifestyle choices such as excessive intake of sugar and processed foods can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. More worryingly, elevated blood sugar and insulin levels cause significant free radical damage throughout the body. When diabetes is uncontrolled, excess sugars in the blood accelerate the production of free radicals, which will lead to chronic inflammation.

Diabetes develops progressively, like weeds on the lawn – maintained well and the lawn looks great; neglected for too long, and you may find yourself in quite a painful situation. Uncontrolled diabetes which leads to chronic inflammation will cause numerous health complications such as arteriosclerosis (cardiovascular disease), retinopathy (blindness), and neuropathy (nerve disease).

The number of diabetics in Malaysia has tripled in a span of two decades, from 6.3% in 1986 to 20.8% in 2011.


One of the leading causes of death among diabetics is atherosclerosis, which is due to excess blood sugar. This will decrease the elasticity of blood vessels and causes them to narrow, impeding blood flow. According to the American Diabetes Association, the risk of stroke or dying of heart disease increases by 200-400% for adults with diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes. It is a progressive disorder of the nerves damaged by the elevated blood sugar that leads to pain, tingling, "pins and needles," numbness or burning sensations in the hands and feet. According to the CDC, roughly one in two people diagnosed with diabetes have some level of nerve damage. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases say nerve problems affect 60-70% of people with diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the main cause of blindness among diabetics. This condition is caused when the blood capillaries in the eyes become fragile due to chronically high blood sugar. Over the time, blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), distorting vision, which leads to the eventual loss of vision.

Nutritional supplements to tackle Diabetes

Besides eating healthily and exercising regularly, nutritional supplements also play vital roles in managing blood sugar levels. Many studies showed that key nutrients can effectively improve blood sugar control and help prevent or reduce many of the major complications of diabetes.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful and unique antioxidant that can help to control blood sugar level and prevent premature ageing. Antioxidants come in two varieties: water soluble and fat soluble. A few, such as ALA, are both. This dual nature allows ALA to work in both areas throughout the body and protect from being damaged by sugar induced free radicals attack. This ability is the reason why alpha-lipoic acid being termed as ‘Universal antioxidant ‘

Several studies showed that supplementation with ALA are able to control blood sugar level and prevent premature aging. By taking ALA, it is able to increase the glucose uptake into the cells and enhances the insulin sensitivity by 30%. It therefore can prevent pre-diabetes. ALA has also been proven to prevent the glycation process, thus reducing tissue damage and premature ageing.

While studies show that ALA can lower blood sugar level, its universal antioxidant characteristic also has been proven to be able to help in people with diabetic neuropathy. In Germany, alpha lipoic acid is approved for the treatment of diabetic neuropathic pain. Studies show that using oral ALA daily for 5 weeks reports that ALA is associated with a significant improvement in neuropathic symptoms.

Sadly, like other nutrients, this universal antioxidant decreases as we age. That explains why we start to accumulate sugar when we are older. The excess sugar will then be converted to fat that stores around our waist as “spare-tyres”.

Glycation refers to the binding of sugar to protein, causing damage in the body where most noticeably on the skin such as wrinkles. Diabetic patients may experience accelerated aging if the blood sugar level is not well managed.

Chromium Picolinate and Biotin

Chromium is another nutrient that is important in maintaining normal blood sugar levels. It is an essential trace mineral required for carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. The body cannot make chromium; it must be obtained through the diet or by supplementation.

Unfortunately, nutritional chromium that can be found in foods such as organ meats, oysters, mushrooms and broccoli are in minute quantities, and is poorly absorbed by the intestinal tract. Moreover, modern food processing and cooking methods have greatly compromise the levels of chromium in foods. A high consumption of sugar also reduces chromium reserves in the body. Finally, ageing is also associated with a 25% to 40% drop in tissue chromium and may be implicated in type 2 diabetes mellitus. In published studies, chromium deficiency has been shown to induce early-stage diabetic complications and hasten the onset of full-blown diabetes.

The best way to maintain sufficient blood chromium level is through supplementation, and the best from of chromium supplement is Chromium picolinate (CrPic). Unlike other form of chromium, CrPic has stable chemical structure and superior absorption. Several studies show that CrPic has significant positive effects in diabetes management.

Nutritional chromium that can be found in foods such as organ meats, oysters, mushrooms and broccoli are in minute quantities, and is poorly absorbed by the intestinal tract.

Biotin, on the other hand, is a water-soluble B vitamin that plays an essential role in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Biotin stimulates insulin secretion, hepatic glucose uptake, and the suppression of glucose synthesis in the presence of high plasma glucose, as in the case of pre-diabetes and diabetes.

While taking each individual nutrient help to maintain blood sugar levels, many human clinical studies prove that combination of both chromium picolinate and biotin show synergistic effects. Besides than keeping blood sugar levels low, this combination also helps to bring down levels of haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), the advanced glycation end product associated with long-term exposure to elevated sugar concentrations. Not forget to mention, these benefits are accompanied by healthy reductions in abnormal lipid levels and increases in artery-cleansing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the blood.

A 2009 study showed that supplementation with chromium picolinate (CrPic) and biotin can improve glycaemic control in overweight to obese diabetic patients when taken along with their regular medication. The important point of this study is that this combination exerts its positive effects on blood sugar selectively, which means it does not induce dangerously low blood sugar levels like some drugs, but rather kicks into gear only when blood sugar levels become too high.

Another 90-day, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-centre study evaluated 368 subjects taking CrPic/biotin supplementation and showed significant improvements in their levels of HbA1c, total cholesterol (TC) and triglycerides (TG)/HDL-C ratio, compared to placebo recipients. The greatest improvement in HbA1c levels occurred in subjects with the highest baseline HbA1c levels, meaning that this combination shows better results in people who has uncontrolled blood sugar level.

Study shows that Chromium Picolinate/Biotin supplementation significantly improve the levels of HbA1c, total cholesterol (TC) and triglycerides (TG)/HDL-C ratio, compared to placebo recipients.

According to data from the Food and Agricultural Association, Malaysia sugar consumption is one of the highest in the world. Taking too much sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes and increased the risk of cardiovascular diseases, among many other dangerous diseases. It is therefore, important to reduce our sugar intake, leading a healthy lifestyle, and taking some important nutrients to help us manage our blood sugar level better.

This health information is brought to you by the panel pharmacists of Cambert (M) Sdn Bhd.

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