For most of the 19 million Americans diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the main 1 goal of treatment is simply to control their glucose (blood sugar) levels with diet, exercise and sometimes medication.

But there's much more that should be done to help prevent serious complications, which can shorten the life expectancy of a person with diabetes-by about 75 years in men and 8.2 years in women.

Sobering statistics: About 80% of people with diabetes die from cardiovascular complications, such as a heart attack. About half the patients with poor glucose control will eventually suffer from nerve damage (neuropathy). Another 20% to 30% may experience retinopathy or other eye disorders.

Whether or not you're taking medication for diabetes, virtually all of these complications can be avoided—and, in some cases, reversed—with natural approaches.

Important: Be sure to speak to your doctor before following any of the steps in this article-some may affect diabetes drugs and other types of medication.

Best ways for people with diabetes to avoid complications…

Fight Arterial Calcification

The Rotterdam Heart Study, which looked at the dietary histories of more than 4,800 patients, found that those with low blood levels of vitamin K-2 were 57% more likely to develop heart disease, due in part to an increase in calcium in the arteries. Paradoxically, these patients had lower bone levels of calcium, which increases the risk for fractures.

Because diabetic patients have an extremely high risk for heart disease, I routinely recommend a daily supplement (45 mcg) of vitamin K-2. You can also get more of this nutrient by eating such foods as liver, eggs and certain cheeses.

Caution: Because there are different forms of vitamin K some of which interfere with the effects of warfarin Coumadin) and other blood thinners—always speak to your doctor before taking any vitamin K supplement.

Overcome Fatigue

Both inflammation and elevated blood sugar increase fatigue, making it one of the most common symptoms of diabetes. Helpful…

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) increases the body's production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that enhances the performance of mitochondria, the energy-producing components of cells. CoQ10 is also an antioxidant that reduces inflammation.

Typical dose: 100 mg to 200 mg, twice daily.

  • Magnesium is involved in glucose and insulin reactions and is typically lower than normal in people with diabetes who expericnce fatigue. Patients who eat a healthy diet, including magnesium-rich foods such as nuts and oatmeal, and supplement with magnesium often report an increase in energy. They also show improvements in blood pressure and cardiac performance. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate dosage of a magnesium supplement-especially if you have kidney disease or heart disease, both of which can be worsened by too much magnesium.

All forms of supplemental magnesium can be used, but magnesium citrate causes diarrhea in some people. If this happens to you, take a different form, such as magnesium taurate or magnesium glycinate.

Avoid Diabetic Neuropathy

Excess blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels that carry blood and nutrients to nerves in the fingers, legs and/or feet, causing neuropathy. Neuropathy can eventually lead to tissue damage that requires amputation. What to try…

  • Alpha-lipoic acid makes the cells more sensitive to insulin and can relieve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.

Typical dose: 600 mg to 1,200 mg daily for people with diabetes who have neuropathy. To help prevent neuropathy, 100 mg to 300 mg daily is the typical dose.

  • B-complex supplement may help prevent neuropathy or reduce symptoms in patients who already have it.

Typical dose: Two B-100 complex supplements daily for people with diabetes who have B-100 complex daily to help prevent neuropathy.

Prevent Eye Damage

High blood sugar can cause diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. It can also increase eye pressure and lead to glaucoma.

Self-defense: Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods contain antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C, which strengthen eye capillaries, fight free radicals and reduce the risk for blindness. Frozen fruits and vegetables also can be used.

Best choice: Blueberries or bilberries-both contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that help prevent eye damage and appear to improve glucose levels.

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