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What is Type 1 Diabetes? A Guide to Understanding and Managing it through Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approaches

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on June 9, 2023

Type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease affecting millions worldwide, involves an autoimmune attack on the body's own insulin-producing cells, leaving individuals reliant on insulin injections. Though its cause remains unknown, the interaction of genetic, environmental, and possibly lifestyle factors appears to play a pivotal role. (1)

While conventional treatment primarily revolves around insulin therapy, a naturopathic and functional medicine approach may offer supplementary strategies. This perspective emphasizes a holistic, patient-centered approach that aims to address the root causes of disease and restore physiological function, focusing heavily on diet and lifestyle interventions.

Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes involves the autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin, a hormone necessary for glucose regulation. With the progressive loss of these cells, insulin production drops, leading to hyperglycemia - an excess of glucose in the bloodstream.

Individuals with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy to prevent hyperglycemia and its complications, including cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy.

Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approach

While insulin replacement is a must for type 1 diabetes, a naturopathic and functional medicine approach aims to enhance overall health, potentially reduce the severity of the condition and mitigate complications through diet, lifestyle modifications, and use of natural therapies.


Diet plays an instrumental role in managing type 1 diabetes. Following a balanced diet helps maintain stable blood glucose levels and contributes to overall wellbeing.

A plant-based diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and low in saturated fats has been associated with improved glycemic control and lipid profile. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts should be mainstays, along with lean proteins and healthy fats.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts may aid in reducing inflammation and improving heart health, a concern in individuals with diabetes.

Low-glycemic index foods, such as lentils, non-starchy vegetables, and most fruits, should be favored as they cause a slower and smaller rise in blood glucose levels. (2)

Lifestyle Modifications

Physical activity is another cornerstone in managing type 1 diabetes. Regular exercise enhances insulin sensitivity, promotes cardiovascular health, and helps maintain a healthy weight.

Stress management techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can be helpful, as chronic stress negatively affects glucose regulation. Ensuring adequate, quality sleep is equally crucial, as sleep deprivation can impair insulin sensitivity and exacerbate poor glycemic control. (3)

The Role of Supplements

While diet should always come first, certain supplements might have potential benefits for those with type 1 diabetes. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen.

Alpha-lipoic acid, a naturally occurring antioxidant, has shown potential in reducing symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy and improving insulin sensitivity. (4, 5) Chromium deficiency is associated with type 1 diabetes. (6)

Lastly, probiotics may contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a role in immunity and inflammation – factors in autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes. (7)

Type 1 diabetes, while a complex and chronic disease, can be navigated with a multi-faceted approach. A combination of a balanced diet, regular physical activity, stress management, adequate sleep, and potentially, targeted supplementation, may offer support for individuals with this condition alongside conventional insulin therapy.

While there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, these strategies may help mitigate symptoms and complications, and ultimately, improve quality of life. Always consult with a holistic healthcare professional before making significant dietary or lifestyle changes.


  1. Lucier J, Weinstock RS. Type 1 Diabetes. [Updated 2023 Mar 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507713/
  2. Lennerz BS, Barton A, Bernstein RK, Dikeman RD, Diulus C, Hallberg S, Rhodes ET, Ebbeling CB, Westman EC, Yancy WS Jr, Ludwig DS. Management of Type 1 Diabetes With a Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet. Pediatrics. 2018 Jun;141(6):e20173349. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-3349. Epub 2018 May 7. PMID: 29735574; PMCID: PMC6034614.
  3. Gonder-Frederick L. Lifestyle modifications in the management of type 1 diabetes: still relevant after all these years? Diabetes Technol Ther. 2014 Nov;16(11):695-8. doi: 10.1089/dia.2014.0175. Epub 2014 Sep 29. PMID: 25265471; PMCID: PMC4201293.
  4. Vallianou N, Evangelopoulos A, Koutalas P. Alpha-lipoic Acid and diabetic neuropathy. Rev Diabet Stud. 2009 Winter;6(4):230-6. doi: 10.1900/RDS.2009.6.230. Epub 2009 Dec 30. PMID: 20043035; PMCID: PMC2836194.
  5. Lee WJ, Song KH, Koh EH, Won JC, Kim HS, Park HS, Kim MS, Kim SW, Lee KU, Park JY. Alpha-lipoic acid increases insulin sensitivity by activating AMPK in skeletal muscle. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Jul 8;332(3):885-91. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2005.05.035. PMID: 15913551.
  6. Karagun BS, Temiz F, Ozer G, Yuksel B, Topaloglu AK, Mungan NO, Mazman M, Karagun GM. Chromium levels in healthy and newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic children. Pediatr Int. 2012 Dec;54(6):780-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-200X.2012.03696.x. Epub 2012 Oct 9. PMID: 22783884.
  7. Dovi KS, Bajinka O, Conteh I. Evidence and possible mechanisms of probiotics in the management of type 1 diabetes mellitus. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2022 Feb 24;21(1):1081-1094. doi: 10.1007/s40200-022-01006-2. PMID: 35673472; PMCID: PMC9167374.

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