Chromium levels may also be depleted in insulin dependent diabetics. Supplementation can improve control and because chromium allows insulin to work properly may allow some diabetics to reduce their insulin doses, says Davies. (He warns, however, to be aware that greater insulin efficiency may increase the number of hypoglycaemic episodes hypos until the insulin dose is correspondingly reduced.)
Dr Davies says dietary supplements may also be helpful in staving off other side effects. Diabetics with symptoms of eczema or thrush should be tested for zinc deficiency. Zinc supplements may also help the healing of resistant leg ulcers, along with doses of vitamin C. (Davies recommends 1-3 g of vitamin C and 20-80 mg zinc a day.) Vitamin C is also helpful with a host of other side effects; it strengthens weak blood vessels associated with eye disease and reduces cholesterol levels in blood. Diabetics who have suffered from ketoacidosis (where severe insulin deficiency has caused fat breakdown leading to acidification of the blood) are likely to be deficient in magnesium. Potassium levels may also be depleted.
Other recommended vitamin supplements are B6 and B12 to aid control and reduce the likelihood of nervous system disorders and vitamin E, which helps minimize damage to small blood vessels. Increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and their derivatives such as evening primrose oil and vitamin C will help reduce the levels of fats in the blood. Dr Davies also recommends eating plenty of salmon, mackerel, herring and linseed oil to reduce the risk of blood platelet clumping which can cause eye disorders.
An underexplored factor which may affect diabetic control is the impact of food allergies.Dr Davies says animal studies have shown that certain foods may have an impact on blood sugar levels, which have nothing to do with the amount of carbohydrate ingested. Such allergies may often be masked, so Dr Davies recommends using a process of self testing to isolate foods which may provoke an allergic reaction if sugar levels are fluctuating for no apparent reason. One such substance is bovine serum albumin, a protein in cow's milk, which may trigger an autoimmune response that destroys pancreatic cells in genetically susceptible individuals. A recent study (The New England Journal of Medicine, 30 July 1992) examined the blood of 142 children with IDDM and found that all had elevated anti-BSA antibodies, which the University of Toronto researchers concluded had precipitated pancreatic dysfunction.
Diabetic pregnancies - whatever the mother's state of health - are still deemed by standard medical thinking to be high risk. Dr Michel Odent a leading pioneer of natural childbirth rejects such a blanket approach. "Generally speaking, any label of high risk brings with it its own risk," he says, and should, therefore, be avoided. This high risk tag means that the whole paraphernalia of science's attempts to improve on nature will be wheeled out when a diabetic woman is to give birth.
Inductions and caesareans are still routinely inflicted on diabetic mothers in many hospitals. Such drastic intervention in the natural birth process might have been necessary in the past, when it was much harder for diabetics to keep their blood sugar levels well controlled; the excess insulin, which encourages growth, resulted in oversized babies. However, with the advent of more accurate blood sugar testing and improved dietary advice, routine inductions and caesareans are anachronistic.