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Regaining Control

Expanding waistlines and staggering statistics have consumers actively seeking natural options to help get their blood sugar in line.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million children and adults have diabetes—7.8 percent of the US population. Of these, 5.7 million do not know they have the disease.Each year, about 1.6 million people aged 20 or older are diagnosed with diabetes.

It is estimated that 57 million adults aged 20 and older have pre-diabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. Type 1 (previously called insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset) diabetes accounts for five to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 (previously called non-insulin-dependent or adultonset) diabetes accounts for 90-95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes, and is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents.

In addition, the American Institutes of Health estimates that over 65 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese and the number is climbing. With the rise of obesity, the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes has also been increasing.

Staggering statistics on top of a harsh look in the mirror have consumers waking up to the reality that salt- and sugarladen diets are slowly but surely doing them in and that changes need to be made, and dietary supplements are part of that solution—the Natural Marketing Institute estimated that of the 23 million diabetics, 6.1 percent were using dietary supplements to address this problem in 2009.

Further Martie Whittekin, CCN with Lily of the Desert (Denton, TX), expressed that the news of pharmaceutical failures to provide aid will only increase the number of individuals seeking natural solutions for their blood sugar.

“It seems that consumers have (or at least should have) more interest in natural approaches to blood sugar control because of recent news. Not only has the incidence of diabetes and pre-diabetes reached epidemic proportions and is affecting growing numbers of children, the drug approach is being questioned,” said Whittekin. “Recently the type 2 diabetes drug, Avandia, was recalled due to the increased risk of potentially fatal congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke and lung problems.New very large studies1 showed that using drugs to very tightly control diabetes might actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease rather than reduce it as had been expected.”

Can’t ‘Weight’ Any Longer

As a well-respected author, speaker and doctor of integrative medicine, Dr. Ernest A. Ehrhardt has created a medical mission around the successful reversal of type 2 diabetes and weight-related illness. A practicing physician for seven years and the founder of The Ehrhardt Center for Integrative Medicine in 2010, he has been a retailer of health products since 1987. As a complement to his medical center, Ehrhardt opened a number of nutrition stores, including Basking in Nutrition based in Basking Ridge, NJ, and is on his way to extending his enterprise into the southern Atlantic states by the middle of 2011.

Ehrhardt said he recognizes that balanced blood sugar and proper diet are integral factors in successful weight loss and disease prevention. While his stores feature from 200-300 SKUs of supplements directed at personalized blood sugar control, the food SKUs that he offers actually reveal more than 4,000 products aimed at controlling blood sugar. Ehrhardt described the all-toocommon sequence that, “With high blood sugar, one will gain weight and produce insulin, which then will store fat.Substantial fat deposits are a precursor to type 2 diabetes and a second-stage condition of heart disease.” He added that, “Blood sugar imbalances are a gutrelated disturbance, which can be corrected with proper food choices and the daily supplementation of a digestive enzyme. We can obtain a surprisingly high amount of energy from the foods we eat, provided we have the digestive health to break them down, and metabolic efficiency to distribute nutrients. If we cannot, we miss a vital opportunity to nourish our bodies’ cells and to keep our blood sugar at consistent, healthy levels.”

A strong seller for Ehrhardt in that department is Enzymedica’s Reduce™, a formula that the Port Charlotte, Flbased company has invested five years of research and development into designing and validating. Reduce contains a proprietary enzyme blend, Glucoreductase™, which combines simple sugars to form a soluble fiber. This fiber serves as a food source for the beneficial microflora in the intestinal tract and will not contribute to the rise of glucose.

“When taken with a carbohydrate-rich meal, Reduce works in the digestive system to reduce the amount of absorbable sugar, therefore dramatically reducing the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose,” explained Dave Barton, national educator for Enzymedica. “Working with our body’s own natural metabolic process, this in turn safely reduces glucose levels in the blood and lessens the demand for insulin production.”

Another approach to how weight correlates to blood sugar issues, according to Jack Brown, vice president of Lily of the Desert, is paying attention to the glycemic index (GI), which measures how carbohydrate-containing foods raise blood glucose levels.

“Because Americans are overweight, they should look for products that are clinically proven to reduce the glycemic intake of meals, which by its very nature will lower blood sugar,” said Brown.Just this year, the company launched a product called Glucoaloe, which is based on the specific ranges of aloepolysaccharides within aloe that affect blood sugar. “By isolating those molecules and putting them in a vege-cap, we have a product clinically shown to reduce blood sugar, reduce intake of glycemic meals, provide antioxidant support and other benefits including weight loss of up to 12 percent of body fat.”

Whole Body Approach

As weight can be a telltale sign of potential diabetic issues, the disease is closely linked to cholesterol and heart disease. This is why LifeSeasons (Copper Canyon, TX) has created a product, Diabet-X, that addresses the entire body and all of the issues that accompany increased blood sugar levels, according to Mindy Whitacre, national sales manager and part-time educator with the company.

“LifeSeasons utilized the latest clinical research to create Diabet-X, a synergistic blend in therapeutic doses that addresses several issues associated with regulating healthy blood sugar levels, including blood sugar regulation, insulin resistance, circulation and eye health,” explained Whitacre.

Although the product is new to the market (introduced in July 2010), it has already been warmly received by customers at Sunflower Shoppe, a familyowned natural foods store with locations in Fort Worth and Colleyville, TX.

According to Belinda York, CN, general manager of the 8,000-square-foot Fort Worth, TX branch, which features a four-foot endcap of supplements that address blood sugar issues, “For our pre-diabetic customers who aren’t on medication yet, but are trying to take preventative steps, I often recommend LifeSeasons’ Diabet-X.“ Not only did the company provide our staff with great training, but it’s provided excellent support literature that we can put in our customers’ hands. Even if customers don’t buy it on their initial visit, once they’ve reviewed the material at home, 90 percent of the time they come back for it.” York said that the literature is so compelling because it focuses on the product’s key ingredients and explains exactly what customers can expect them to do.

“The latest clinical research has kept cinnamon, banaba, alpha lipoic acid and chromium in the news and in front of the customers, and these are the core ingredients in Diabet-X,” explained Whitacre. “Cinnamon helps with healthy blood sugar regulation and healthy LDL levels. Meanwhile, several studies have suggested that dietary chromium supplements are an attractive option in the management of type 2 diabetes and for glycemic control in persons at high risk for type 2 diabetes. As many as 90 percent of American diets are low in chromium, which can increase blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and can increase the risk of certain conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.”

Maintaining Normal Levels

Rod Burreson, founder of Roex, Inc. (Irvine, CA), also believes that customers acknowledge products with ingredients supported by solid science, which was the company’s mindset when it introduced its Optima-100® back in 2006. In addition to chromium, cinnamon bark and alpha lipoic acid, the product also contains bitter melon fruit extract, which helps to normalize elevated blood sugar levels, and gymnema sylvestre extract, known to help manage sugar cravings, which helps maintain normal blood glucose levels.

“Roex Optima-100 is a proprietary blend of herbs plus vitamins and minerals that supports healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range,” said Burreson. “It assists in glucose metabolism and helps break down carbohydrates, which has made it one of our top products with retailers since its launch.”

One trend Paul Garrett, vice president of Alive Naturals LLC (Wayland,MI) , has observed is products controlling glucose absorption rather than lowering existing high levels. “Where many supplements in the past have concentrated on removing high glucose once it’s in the system, some newer supplements concentrate on limiting the absorption of glucose,” he said. “This can cause some sugars to never enter the system and others to be absorbed over a much longer period of time thereby limiting post-meal blood sugar spikes. An additional benefit of slower absorption is weight loss.”

Alive’s SugarBal is relatively new to market, but was developed by a Chinese science team and contains a patented-pending mulberry leaf extract called MoruCel™, the effectiveness of which is increased with the use of Opuntia milpa alta cactus extract (may decrease oxidative stress and strengthen the ability to inhibit oxidative damage caused by free radicals), astragalus extract (offers better blood circulation and may assist with circulatory kidney issues) and bitter melon extract (works like an insulin sensitizer).

“In Chinese folk medicine, mulberry leaf has been traditionally used for a drink to ‘clear heat’ and to support healthy blood glucose levels,” explained Garrett. “MoruCel may help support healthy blood glucose already in normal range and it may be effective in regulating blood fat and boosting metabolism.”

Garrett noted an on-going study that so far seems to indicate that 1-deoxynojirimycin (a component of MoruCel) can work as a glucosidase inhibitor, which can assist in controlling post-meal glucose levels, and that other components of mulberry leaf extract (i.e. Fagomime) may promote the secretion of more insulin. “Further on-going studies seem to show that when several components of mulberry leaf extract are used in certain combinations, there are obvious improvements compared to using them individually. These combined components are the key ingredients in our patentpending extract, MoruCel,” he said.

Retailer Tips

While Ehrhardt places a high value on the expertise that manufactures bring to the products they create, he stresses that retailers, not manufactures, are ultimately responsible for their product’s appropriate application. “The [retailer] must exercise sound judgment in recognizing the important product features and benefits that may exist behind a clever marketing strategy or sales pitch.”

In the end, Ehrhardt said it comes down to evaluating and meeting the needs of each individual.

“Blood sugar can be affected in so many ways,” he explained. “Could a particular customer’s blood sugar rising be due to an allergic reaction?

Oftentimes people eat wheat or glutencontaining foods and suffer an allergic reaction. In this case, their blood sugar goes up. Maybe [the customer] is under stress. Here, we would notice that blood sugar would fluctuate due to adrenaline.In this case, it would be more appropriate to suggest B vitamins and valerian root.”

LifeSeasons’ Whitacre agreed: “The first step is understanding that every customer is different. Ask questions and discover what the customer is currently doing for blood sugar support,” she said. “Are they currently working with a physician? Are they taking medications? It’s important to ask the questions and listen to your customers.”

While having these important conversations, Whittekin noted that insulin resistance and hypoglycemia are early indicators that a person is headed toward diabetes. “Retailers can look for other signs such as acid reflux, mental fatigue, sleepiness after meals and skin tags,” she said. “Even high blood pressure and cholesterol issues (high LDL, low HDL) can be related.” 

Once the root of the customer’s problem is clear, it’s time to advise.

Ehrhardt said the best place to begin is with a steady shift to a healthier diet and appropriate exercise plan. He explained, “Supplements can have a profound effect on health and healing, but long-term health must be based on good lifestyle choices.”

Roex’s Burreson offered that a healthy reading section stocked with resources “allows the consumer to get educated about their condition and learn about healthy eating and exercise. It is a great way to keep consumers in the store,” he said. “If retailers act as a resource for the consumer to get educated about their health, then they have repeat customers who will come back to their stores time and time again.”

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