Clearing up tough skin conditions is one of burdock root’s many specialties, but as I recently discovered, it is also very good at stabilizing blood sugars. As I was taking burdock root tincture recently as part of a regimen to address a mysterious case of eczema, I got the unexpected benefit of glucose/insulin stabilization with this deeply healing root.
While I was taking the burdock, I noticed after a while that some skin tags that I had on the back of my neck began to spontaneously crust over and drop off. Hmmm…. I wondered what was going on, but I wasn’t complaining. I hate those things and was glad to see them going. Then soon after this, someone whose herbal wisdom I highly respect and who has done extensive research on the topic of insulin resistance (Paul Bergner), mentioned in an online herbal forum that skin tags may be a specific indication of insulin resistance. Soon after that, I read that burdock is often used to regulate blood sugars. Now it was coming together!
In case you don’t know, insulin resistance is often one of the first indications of an imbalance in blood sugar levels and often leads to the onset of type II diabetes. As far as I understand it, insulin resistance occurs when the body repeatedly makes excessive amounts of insulin in order to deal with frequent spikes in blood sugars. Frequent spikes in blood sugars occur with diets too high in certain carbohydrates (especially refined carbs like cane sugar and white bread). Over time the cells become resistant to the excessive insulin and its action of transporting glucose from the blood into the cells. As more glucose remains in the bloodstream, more insulin is made to try to force it into the cells, which equals more resistance over time, and more insulin production, and more resistance, etc… a very vicious cycle that eventually could result in diabetes or other serious health complications if it is allowed to continue. With diabetes, the insulin production system becomes exhausted from all the sugar spikes it has dealt with over the years and is finally no longer able to keep up, leaving blood glucose levels chronically high. There is more to the pathology than I am able to explain adequately here, but these are the broad strokes of the disease process.
I am not currently a diabetic, nor a hypoglycemic, but I do have skin tags. If this is in fact a specific indicator for insulin resistance, as I believe it is, then this says to me that I need to take some steps NOW to reverse the process. The possibility of developing diabetes in the future is nothing to play around with. Diabetes can be a very ugly and devastating disease as it progresses.
The good news is that in most cases insulin resistance is completely reversible with close attention to the diet and regular, gentle exercise. In some cases, even type II diabetes can be reversed in the same way, or at least managed so the impact is less severe. There are many herbal helpers and painless ways to change the diet, both of which are easy to implement and can make a huge impact. Below I’ve listed some simple and safe wise women ways that can help control blood sugar spikes and thus insulin resistance. But please also consult your health care provider if you have blood sugar/ insulin problems. This is really nothing to play around with.
Consume Burdock Root. Burdock is a deeply healing root. It heals from the inside out, digging deep all the way to your core. It can be consumed like food, as often as you like. Asian markets and some health food stores sell them under the name “gobo”. You can also dig your own; it is a very common weed in most places. It can be used like potatoes in soup, or cut up like carrots in stir fry. It can also be taken as a medicinal infusion or tincture. Burdock has been recognized by many herbalists as effective in controlling blood sugars, and there has been some scientific research that suggests the same thing. It is thought that the inulin in the starch of the root is the active ingredient that controls the blood sugars.
Add cinnamon to your food whenever you can. Studies show that cinnamon is effective at reversing insulin resistance in the cells. It can also dramatically reduce blood glucose levels in the diabetic, so check with your health care provider if you are on medication for diabetes, as using cinnamon could change your dosage. Sprinkle it on your toast (whole grain of course), put it in your tea, make your own cinnamon capsules and take them before a meal. Use your imagination!
Add vinegar to your food whenever you can. My grandmother often talks about how when she was young and she wanted to lose weight, she would drink vinegar. This provoked a yuck! response from me whenever I heard her say it. But studies show that this is effective at preventing blood sugar & insulin spikes when consumed before a meal (2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar is recommended), so I can see how it could also help in weight loss. Having a salad? Use a vinaigrette dressing and eat it at the beginning of your meal. Having collards or kale or spinach? Splash a bit of vinegar over them. This will help your blood sugars and release the minerals in the greens to make them more bioavailable to your body. Eat pickles. Take a bit of vinegar in a glass of water as a pre-meal drink. Be creative!
Eat more non starchy vegetables, and incorporate more nourishing herbs. These increase your vitamins and overall nutrition so you don’t crave the unhealthy stuff as much. I talked about using herbs as a vitamin supplement here, if you are interested in my thoughts on this.
Eliminate refined carbohydrates & reduce unrefined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates comprise most of what you find on grocery store shelves these days. Pastas, white breads, cookies, noodles, crackers, chips, pizza rolls, white flour, juices, sugar, syrups, sodas… the list is endless. Unrefined carbohydrates, on the other hand, are as close to the whole form in which nature created them as possible. They are for the most part whole grains and starchy fruits and vegetables, such as oatmeal, corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, most whole fruits. Some natural sweeteners are also unrefined carbs, such as unprocessed honey. Refined carbohydrates usually come packaged up with lots of other ingredients on the label. Unrefined carbohydrates have no ingredients; they just are themselves. Both of these categories of carbs can raise glucose levels faster than protein/fats and non starchy vegetables, but the refined carbs will send your glucose soaring up much, much faster than the unrefined ones. In contrast, the whole food synergy of the unrefined carbs slows glucose conversion somewhat. A certain amount of unrefined carbohydrates is needed in the diet, however, you need NONE of the refined junk.
Always pair unrefined carbohydrates with protein/fat. Protein/fat (usually they come together in natural whole foods) tends to slow the carbohydrates converting to glucose, and prevents sudden spikes in blood sugar. Eat some protein with every meal or snack, as almost every meal contains some carbs. Meat, fish, cheese, yogurt, nuts, beans, eggs, some soy products, all are good choices. (I try to stay away from processed meats and unfermented soy; I don’t think they are good for you). Also make sure you eat high quality fats like real butter, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oil; stay away from seed oils and fake butter — they are usually rancid and full of harmful chemicals.
Try to eat your unrefined carbohydrates toward the end of your meal. Eat the protein/fat and non-starchy vegetables first to further reduce the impact of the carbs on blood sugars. Having a salad, baked potato, and steak? Eat the salad first (with its viniagrette dressing!), the steak, and finally the potato. Actually, make that a sweet potato (more nutrient dense then white potatoes) with some of that wonderful cinnamon sprinkled on top!
Remember that carbohydrates, especially refined, tend to be addictive because of the glucose/insulin spikes they cause. Insulin is also known as the hunger hormone, for good reason. Being addicted to carbs can cause overwhelming hunger that undermines the best of intentions with your diet. It will make you want to eat and eat and eat the carbs, but yet never feel satisfied. I know from first hand experience.
I’ve been taking my own dietary advice, as described above, and was doing quite well until about a week ago. A few days of not planning well for meals, eating bread or potatoes that I didn’t need because that was what was there, and the next thing I know I’m rationalizing extra servings of carbs at every meal, craving them between meals, and eating more and more of them. My hunger was suddenly out of control again, along with my insulin/glucose balance.
The only way out of this viscious cycle is to go back to step one and begin again. Reduce the carbs and eat more protein. Use the herbal helpers, along with the other suggestions listed above. As you successfully cut back the carbs and use the helpers to reduce the hormonal spikes they can cause, you’ll find your craving for them steadily decreasing. When the cravings are under control, it is a very good sign that your insulin and sugars are balanced and stable. You may also find that you begin to lose weight naturally. These are all good indicators that you are headed in the right direction for optimal health!