Diabetes and Massage Therapy: Yes, It Could Lower Your Blood Sugar

If your experience of modern medicine’s approach to diabetes was anything like mine, you were given two basic keys to managing your blood sugar shortly after your diagnosis (and neither were a pamphlet on diabetes and massage).

First, you were told that you’ll need to track your carbohydrate intake from now on. Along with that you were probably told that the expectation for adhering to any sort of diet plan is incredibly low. After all, you made it this far in your life without watching what you eat, so what are the odds you’re going to change now? 

The second key makes up for that though. It’s the promise of modern medicine. You just take a pill and go enjoy your burger and shake, no effort, no stress. After a while, you’ll up the dosage and maybe add another pill or two, or even insulin injections if those don’t work.

The likelihood of “reversing” diabetes or managing it purely through diet and lifestyle is slim. Again, the bar here is very low. Beyond a few informative packets you’ll likely toss on the way out of the office, no one really pushes you to make healthier diet choices or to find ways to maximize your physical activity like your actual health depends on it.

That’s why we have medicines.

By my reckoning the problem with this approach is twofold. First, there’s a lot we can accomplish with diet and exercise. I know because I’ve done it myself. When I was diagnosed, my blood sugars were in the 500s and my A1c mirrored it. I needed insulin and metformin to get it back down to normal. Through a years-long process of changing the way I eat and move, and much to the surprise of my doctor, I achieved remission. It’s unheard of, he assured me. And I’ve heard the same from my coaching colleagues in medical practice as well.

Even for all the focus I’ve put on my health since then, there was something in my diabetes management strategy that I missed until just last year when I experienced an uncharacteristic and alarming blood sugar spike for several months. It’s the second problem with the medicine-centered approach. It’s the key no one really talks about, not even the folks advocating for plant-based diets as a way to manage blood sugar.

I’m talking about the influence of stress on diabetes.

Diabetes and Massage Therapy

Stress relief is truly the bridge that connects diabetes and massage therapy. And that makes sense, right? I mean, if there’s anything we all associate with massage therapy, it’s relaxation. People book a massage after stressful events or as a means of managing peak stress levels.

From my perspective, both the massage industry and diabetes research suffer from a curious desire to make themselves more complicated though. It’s as if, to some degree, we’re afraid of giving our mindset enough power to influence the physical condition of our body. So, diabetes becomes this mysteriously unmanageable monster we can only ever treat with medication. And massage therapy becomes this practice we have to justify as medically necessary for some reason other than the simple reality of stress relief.

Mind and body are connected though. Where some cultures might divide them, holistically we can even think of them as one being. After all, what is a mind but the thoughts and feelings of a brain and nervous system, themselves part of a body?

Still, the need to make massage therapy “medical” (in the sense of being more than a relaxation technique) has produced some great research on diabetes. A systematic review of scientific literature on diabetes and massage published in 2001, noted that massage might influence insulin uptake at the injection site, lower or normalize blood glucose levels, and improve certain forms of diabetic neuropathy.

Of note, the paper’s authors write:

“Additionally, massage has been shown to decrease anxiety in a variety of patient populations, including people with diabetes. These stress-reducing benefits of massage have raised the possibility that massage may be of benefit to people with diabetes by inducing the relaxation response, thereby controlling the counter-regulatory stress hormones and permitting the body to use insulin more effectively.”

A 2019 systematic review covering the previous twenty years of research on diabetes and massage noted similar effects for diabetics, including “a decrease in blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels while an improvement in neuropathic pain and diabetic foot ulcer.”

What This Means For Diabetics

The bottom line is that depending on what your symptoms are, how well your diabetes is managed, and what kind of massage you’re receiving, massage therapy could really help you with a lot of the medical concerns you have.

Beyond the coulds and cans and maybes though, I truly think we (as diabetics) can look at massage as something that helps us relax. And that’s good enough, no other medical work needed. Helping diabetics relax equals better body use of insulin. That in itself is phenomenal.

The cool thing about being as fixated on healthy eating and fitness as I have been since my diagnosis, is that I can rule out most of the usual suspects when I see my blood sugar levels spike. I know it’s not what I’m eating. And I know it’s not that I’m sitting around the house or office too much.

The thing no one prepared me for or talked to me about before I saw it though was that high levels of stress in your life can send your blood sugar high on up there too. For about a month, I was seeing numbers in the upper 200s, and even after restarting medication, there was little change. It was only after I got my stress back under control that I saw relief.

If we care about our health post-diagnosis, we can’t afford to dismiss the impact of chronic stress on our physical health. And with that in mind, making massage therapy a regular part of our lives is a great way to better manage our stress level and our long-term outcomes living with diabetes.

5 Studies on How Linoleic Acid is Affecting Your Health

Years ago, I attended a seminar on food-based holistic health which included a segment very quickly running through some of the speaker’s views on the different cooking oils that are on the market. For several years now, my own personal oil use has been more or less restricted to the occasional olive oil in a cast iron skillet to cook a stir fry, so I didn’t pay as close attention as I perhaps should have.

It wasn’t until a client of mine brought up eliminating oils from his diet that I decided to give the topic a deeper look. From what I can tell, as with many health-related subjects, there is a range of perspectives often regarding the same health indicators.

Holistic nutrition, while a passion of mine, is not yet something in which I am professionally trained. So, with that in mind, I’ll leave the conclusions for my readers to draw. Here below though, I’ve collected five studies I’ve found specifically on linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid in our vegetable and seed oils (think: corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, pumpkin seed, etc).

Linoleic acid seems often to be identified as the villain in these oils, however, more recent research (included below) suggests it may be more complicated than that. What do you think?

Risk of Insulin Resistance Lower with Use of Olive Oil vs. Sunflower Oil

In this 2004 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, researchers found that people who used olive oil for cooking alone experienced lower insulin resistance than those who used sunflower oil or a mix of the two. Insulin resistance positively correlated with oleic acid (higher in olive oil) and negatively with linoleic acid (higher in sunflower oil).

Essentially what this study observes is that the risk of higher insulin resistance–that is, the body’s failure to respond normally to insulin–was lower in people who cooked with olive oil compared to sunflower oil.

Reduction in Migraines Associated with Diet Lower in Vegetable Oils

Much more recently, a team of researchers with the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a 30-40% reduction in headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month for sufferers of migraines who consumed higher levels of fatty fish and lower levels of vegetable oils (high in linoleic acid).

Importantly, this research adds to a growing body of studies demonstrating the impact of dietary changes on chronic pain. In a backhanded way, it also sheds light on the un-helpfulness of the American diet in relation to chronic pain such as migraines, given that the study group given a diet high in vegetable oils and low in fatty fish was meant to mirror the average American intake.

Soybean Oil Causes Higher Obesity and Diabetes Than Diets High in Fructose

Research by scientists at the University of California, Riverside in 2015 found that soybean oil causes higher rates of obesity and diabetes than fructose (the much-maligned sugar found in soda and many highly processed foods).

Mice in the study fed the high soybean oil diet were observed to experience “increased weight gain, larger fat deposits, a fatty liver with signs of injury, diabetes and insulin resistance, all of which are part of metabolic syndrome.”

Linoleic Acid Can Increase Tumor Growth

This article is less of a study and more an analysis of many different studies into the nutritional value of linoleic acid. It notes the complexity of research into linoleic acid’s impact on cardiovascular health, while also documenting the compelling connections between linoleic acid and cancer.

For instance, the article notes that “under some conditions linoleic acid can act as a promoter of tumor growth.” It also identifies connections to mammary cancer, increased incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and “correlative data that support the idea that increases in the incidence of some cancers mirror the increase in linoleic acid consumption.”

Soybean Oil Tied to Obesity and Neurological Problems

Lastly, this new study by researchers at UC Riverside links soybean oil not just to the increased rates of obesity and diabetes as noted in the team’s 2015 study included above, but also to decreased oxytocin levels and to genetic malfunctioning which may exemplify the oil’s impact on neurological conditions including autism and Parkinson’s.

As I mentioned in the introduction, recent research complicates the idea that linoleic acid alone is responsible for these effects. In a 2017 study, the UC Riverside team showed that genetically engineering soybean oil to be lower in linoleic acid also lowered rates of obesity and insulin resistance. Nevertheless, in this study, both natural and genetically modified soybean oil showed genetic disruptions, suggesting they are not caused by linoleic acid.

Best Potassium Sources on a Low-Carb Diet

Potassium is a vital mineral in the foods we eat. With important jobs like regulating our water balance, blood pressure, and muscle control, its role in maintaining our overall health cannot be understated.

As we age, our bodies need more potassium, but there’s a delicate balance to be maintained. Both too little potassium (hypokalemia) and too much potassium (hyperkalemia) can cause dangerous fatigue and abnormal heart rhythms. Certain medications (including diuretics, albuterol, insulin, and some antipsychotics) can dramatically lower our potassium levels, while improper functioning of our kidneys can result in too high of a potassium level in our bloodstream. Balancing our potassium levels may take patience and a willingness to explore many different potential variables influencing our results.

The impact of maintaining this balance is crucial though. Potassium functions as a major line of defense against the excess sodium brought into the body through modern processed foods. Left unchecked, this excess sodium may cause high blood pressure, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease and stroke.

So Where Do We Get Potassium?

Usually the first food to come to mind when we think about good potassium sources is a banana. For people watching their carb intake though, this can be a turn-off. Nevertheless, since potassium supplements can accidentally trigger hyperkalemia, we shouldn’t give up on nutritional sources just yet.

With careful planning, you can still reach your recommended daily intake with the help of these low-carb green veggies.

  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Zucchini
  • Beet Greens

Romaine has become a personal favorite of mine. It’s a great low-calorie option to add into smoothies or a salad, and is full of water to help you stay hydrated too. If you compare the nutritional data for romaine to bananas, you’re getting around 232mg of potassium per 1g of sugar in romaine versus 422mg of potassium per 14g of sugar in a banana.

While brussels sprouts (533mg of potassium to 2.9g of sugar), zucchini (573mg of potassium to 3.7g of sugar), and spinach (839mg of potassium to negligible sugar) all pack a punch, it’s beet greens that really take the cake with 1309mg of potassium to negligible amounts of sugar.

For adults, the recommended daily intake is around 3,400mg for males and 2,600mg for females. So that still leaves a few servings to fit in one way or another.

What potassium sources will you use?

An Apple Smoothie for Rosh Hashanah

If we had to pick one food most associated with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), it might be the apple. All across the Jewish world, families are dipping apples in honey and praying for G-d to grant a happy and sweet new year. And there’s no shortage of sweetness to be found in Jewish festival fare.

For all the cultural vibrancy to be found in Jewish cuisine, there’s a definite prevalence of desserts and carb-heavy, breaded dishes. So if you’re unlucky enough to be the kind of person who needs to manage their blood sugar levels, there can be a real conflict between culture and health.

Fear not. I’ve got you covered this year.

Shana Tova Apple Smoothie

  • 1 Pink Lady apple
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 dashes of cinnamon
  • 1 scoop of vanilla plant-based protein powder
  • About 1/2 cup of water (adjust to reach desired consistency)

Blend all ingredients together.

Serve over ice.

Optional: top it off with a drizzle of raw honey, berries, or nuts*.

*No nuts on Rosh Hashanah though.

Your highest carb components are going to be the apple (~21g net), the banana (~12g net), and the honey. It’s entirely possible to keep this smoothie right at about 30g of carbs. And when adding the protein powder, you’ll end up feeling full too if you’re hoping to use this as a meal replacement.

As an added benefit, some research indicates that flavonoid-rich apples like the Pink Lady variety could improve clinical measurements for cardiovascular health including blood pressure and response to stress. Cinnamon also has shown a statistically significant decrease in fasting glucose levels, although more research into its application is needed.

Your mileage may vary, but in my own experience, it’s important to consider the results of studies like these as part of a holistic approach to blood glucose management, and not as a single supplement substitution for medical intervention. (Lest anyone think an apple smoothie will replace an insulin shot).

All that said, it’s a delicious shake. I’ve been enjoying these for breakfast the last few mornings, topped off with some raspberries from our orchard.

May your 5782 be just as sweet. Shana Tova, readers!