High blood sugar levels are characteristic of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Together with high levels of the hormone insulin, they are responsible for most of the damage that these conditions do to the body. Being careful about what you eat and drink and taking regular exercise can go a long way to keeping your blood sugar levels under control. But there is another factor that determines your blood sugar level – how much glucose your liver is making.
Many kinds of cells rely on a steady supply of glucose for energy production, so the body has evolved ways of ensuring this, even when food is in short supply. After meals, the liver converts glucose from the bloodstream into a kind of starch called glycogen, which it stores. Glycogen is then converted back to glucose again when needed. In addition, the liver is able to manufacture glucose itself from certain amino acids, lactic acid or glycerol (a component of fats) and release it into the bloodstream. This is part of the body’s survival mechanism for times of famine.
If you are overweight and have metabolic syndrome or diabetes, you are probably already doing your best to control your blood sugar levels by following the low-GL diet that I recommend. However, you could still find it difficult to regulate your blood sugar levels properly if your liver is over-producing glucose. Scientists have been trying for decades to discover why the liver continues to pump out too much glucose in people with diabetes. Recently, they have been finding some answers.
As I mentioned in The Real Diabetes Truth on 10 April 2012, your body fat is not just an inert substance. In fact it takes on a life of its own, producing numerous active substances, including hormones. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health have found that one of these hormones, called aP2, stimulates glucose production in the liver1. They suspect that a communication system between fat cells and the liver evolved to help top up blood sugar levels when food was in short supply. However, as the fat cells become increasingly engorged, they lose control over the production of aP2. The result is that the liver continues to pour glucose into the bloodstream.
Other studies have linked various enzymes and proteins with glucose production in the liver and at the moment it is unclear how these various components interact. The Harvard researchers suggest that their findings will open the way for new drug treatments that block the action or production of aP2. Any such drugs are, however, likely to be several years away.
Of course, the problem with designing a drug that knocks out a little-known biochemical pathway in the body is that nobody yet knows what else it might do. We have seen enough new diabetes drugs that have turned out to have damaging side effects – see The Real Diabetes Truth on 28 March 2013 for details of deadly or dangerous health problems linked to diabetes drugs.
Natural products can stop the liver’s overproduction of glucose
Fortunately, there is no need to wait years for another potentially dangerous drug to tackle the problem of overproduction of glucose in the liver. What the scientists appear to have overlooked are the natural herbal extracts and nutrients that can do the job perfectly well right now!
Here are my top recommendations for natural ways to curb glucose production:
• Berberine – this amazing plant chemical was the subject of The Real Diabetes Truth on 4 April 2013. Studies with diabetic rats have shown that berberine directly inhibits glucose production in the liver, as well as lowering blood sugar levels and reversing insulin resistance.
• Gymnema sylvestre – this herb is traditionally used to treat diabetes. Its main active constituent is gymnemic acid, which has been shown to reduce glucose production in the liver, by reducing the production of enzymes involved in the process3.
• Mulberry leaf – this is another herb that inhibits glucose production in the liver by regulating the action of associated enzymes. In fact, mulberry leaf was found to be more effective than the diabetes drug glibenclamide in controlling blood sugar levels .
• Alpha-lipoic acid – this powerful antioxidant, which helps to prevent many of the complications of diabetes, (see The Real Diabetes Truth 30 July 2012) has also been shown to block glucose production in the liver.
Getting your liver’s glucose production under control and being careful about what you eat and drink every day are major steps you can take to control your diabetes. But have you thought about the air you breathe? A new study shows that children who are exposed to traffic-related air pollution are at increased risk of insulin resistance. That will be the subject of my next blog post.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
1. Cao H, Sekiya M, Ertunc ME, Burak MF, Mayers JR, White A, Inouye K, Rickey LM, Ercal BC, Furuhashi M, Tuncman G, Hotamisligil GS. Adipocyte lipid chaperone aP2 is a secreted adipokine regulating hepatic glucose production. Cell Metab. 2013; 17(5):768-778.
2. Xia X, Yan J, Shen Y, Tang K, Yin J, Zhang Y, Yang D, Liang H, Ye J, Weng J. Berberine improves glucose metabolism in diabetic rats by inhibition of hepatic gluconeogenesis. PLoS One. 2011; 6(2):e16556.
3. Thakur GS, Sharma R, Sanodiya BS, Pandey M, Prasad GB, Bisen PS. Gymnema sylvestre: an alternative therapeutic agent for management of diabetes. J App Pharm Sci. 2012; 2(12):1-6.
4. Andallu B, Varadacharyulu NC. Gluconeogenic substrates and hepatic gluconeogenic enzymes in streptozotocin-diabetic rats: effect of mulberry (Morus indica L.) leaves. J Med Food. 2007; 10(1):41-48.
5. Packer L, Kraemer K, Rimbach G. Molecular aspects of lipoic acid in the prevention of diabetes complications. Nutrition. 2001; 17(10):888-895.