Good Medicine for Preventing and Managing Diabetes



A message from Dr. Shannon McDonald, FNHA Chief Medical Officer during Diabetes Awareness Month

Diabetes is so common these days, especially among First Nations people, that most of us either know someone living with diabetes or are living with it ourselves.

The medical term diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how our bodies use blood sugar, an important energy source for our muscles and tissues and the brain's main source of fuel. When people with diabetes have too high or low blood sugar, this can lead to serious health problems.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to maintain good health and help prevent or manage diabetes in our communities. As November is Diabetes Awareness Month, I want to remind everyone about these things, which include eating a traditional high-protein and high-fiber diet, being consistently active, being connected to each other and the land, and being involved in cultural activities. These are all good medicine!

As each of us has unique strengths and priorities that inform our approach to health and wellness, our choices and paths will be different. The main thing to remember is that medicine is not only found in bottles, tablets, or injections, even though these things can be important to maintaining wellness.

Nutritious food is medicine. Being active regularly is medicine. Self-care is medicine. You can find good medicine in friendship, a good night's sleep, being on the land, sharing in culture, laughing and singing, feeling the sunlight on your face, feeling gratitude for your family, and loving your community. In other words, anything that is good for your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional (wholistic) health is good medicine!

Following are some of the medicines we can use to take care of ourselves and our children, stay balanced and healthy, and protect ourselves and future generations from diabetes and other serious diseases.

Food is medicine

Eating nutritious food is so important for our health and wellness. Food is an essential, cultural, spiritual, and emotional element of our everyday life. Since time immemorial, the traditional foods from our territories have nourished our ancestors—wholistically. They ate a rich diet of healthy wild game or seafood, plus roots, berries, and other wild fruits and vegetables. These traditional foods are high in protein and fiber, which help to keep blood sugars balanced. When these food are not available or affordable, good replacements are lean and non-processed meats/fowl/fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, and whole grains. 

Our partners at ISPARC (the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity & Recreation Council) have provided some helpful tips and reminders for healthy and balanced nutrition. Also, check out their awesome Food is Medicine cooking show and recipe book for inspiration!

Movement is medicine

Physical activity is one of the best ways to support mental health and wellness, and manage diabetes. Activity should be fun! Participate in whatever you like, but just get moving! Some ideas are walking in nature with friends and/or your dogs, gardening, swimming, hiking, biking, traditional dancing or drumming, and traditional food gathering.

Connection is medicine

Take time to connect with self, your culture, your family and loved ones, and the land / territory around you. Doing these things nurtures our spirits, grounds us, and reduces stress, which helps to balance blood sugars.

Up to 76 per cent of people living with diabetes report feeling shame around their diagnosis, and shame and stigma can keep people from truly connecting with others. As First Nations people, knowing that colonization removed us from our traditional lands, lifestyle, livelihoods, and diet – causing diseases like diabetes – we can stand together against this shame and stigma, and instead support each other.

At the FNHA, we work to build supports and tackle stigma around diabetes. We know that we are all in this together. Lifting each other up, celebrating strengths, and honouring where each person is at in their health and wellness journeys are all ways that we can move forward in a good way.

Culture is medicine

For many First Nations people, culture is protective, healing, and foundational for wellness. Cultural activities such as ceremony, drumming, dancing, creating art, and learning to speak traditional languages can build self-esteem, identity, and confidence – all of which support wholistic wellness.

To achieve our vision of healthy, self-determining, and vibrant BC First Nations children, families and communities, we must come together to recognize and reduce the impact of diabetes on our communities.

YOUR VOICE MATTERS! If you, or a loved one, are a First Nations person living with diabetes, we want to hear from you!  Here at the FNHA, we want to make sure that diabetes care is culturally safe and accessible for First Nations people. Your stories, experiences, hopes and needs are needed to guide this work in a good way. If you would like to talk to us about your experiences with diabetes and health care, please contact Kathy Riyazi at or call 778-879-2263. A token of appreciation will be sent to you to honour your sharing.

Following are links to helpful information on for preventing and managing diabetes in a good way.

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