If you have diabetes, most likely, you’re taking medications. Look up the medications approved for the treatment of diabetes and you find a long list of drugs that lower blood sugar, stimulate insulin production, reduce the body’s insulin requirement, and more.
Diabetics may also require medications to control high blood pressure, edema, high blood triglycerides, and if they’re suffering from complications like foot neuropathy, glaucoma, heart disease, and depression, that may mean even more drugs.
According to The New York Times, most type 2 diabetes patients take one or more drugs just to control blood sugar, spending an estimated $12.5 billion on medication in 2007—twice the amount spent in 2001. And that doesn’t include the cost of medications to control high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. The problem with all these drugs is that they can cause serious side effects, including weight gain, nausea, skin rashes, indigestion, and more rarely, heart issues, liver damage, and low blood sugar.
Though any successful treatment program for diabetes has to involve both patient and doctor, patients can be proactive in asking about other alternatives. In fact, some natural supplements and herbs have shown in scientific studies to help lower blood sugar and provide other potential options for the treatment of diabetes, or even for use as adjunct therapies to help lessen the reliance on prescription medications.
Several studies indicate that adding chromium supplements to traditional diabetes medications may improve the control of blood sugar. The body uses chromium to make glucose tolerance factor, which helps improve insulin action. In fact, some studies have shown that chromium insufficiency may result in impaired glucose tolerance and contribute to the development of type II diabetes.
A 2004 study, for example, investigated the effects of chromium picolinate on elderly diabetic patients. Participants received standard treatment for diabetes, along with 200 micrograms of chromium twice a day.
The results: total cholesterol was reduced, triglycerides were lowered, and the scientists found significant differences it the fasting blood level of glucose. “We conclude that,” wrote the researchers, “in this population of elderly, diabetic patients undergoing rehabilitation, dietary supplementation with chromium is beneficial in moderating glucose intolerance. In addition, chromium intake appears to lower plasma lipid levels.”
According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, in 12 out of 15 controlled studies of people with impaired glucose tolerance, chromium supplementation was found to improve some measure of glucose utilization and to have beneficial effects on blood lipid profiles.
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that several human studies have shown that American ginseng lowered blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. A 2000 study, for example, found that taking American ginseng before a meal reduced blood sugar in people both with and without diabetes. Participants consumed capsules containing three grams of American ginseng either 40 minutes before or during a meal. Those taking the ginseng experienced a 20 percent reduction in blood sugar levels.
Studies with other types of ginseng, including Korean ginseng, have not shown similar results. More research needs to be done, but for now, it seems American ginseng may have some potential in helping to control blood sugar levels.
Part of magnesium’s job in the body is to help regulate blood sugar levels. Studies show it may also influence the release and activity of insulin. People with type II diabetes often have low levels of magnesium in their blood, and correcting that magnesium depletion can help improve insulin response and action. In the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, which followed more than 170,000 health professionals, it was discovered that the risk for developing type II diabetes was greater in men and women with low magnesium intake.
A 2010 study gave 52 overweight participants magnesium or a placebo for six months. Those that received the magnesium had significantly improved fasting plasma glucose levels and insulin sensitivity compared to placebo.
Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. Studies used about 300 mg magnesium supplements per day.
A few early studies have indicated that cinnamon may have potential in improving blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. One small 2003 study of 60 people found that after 40 days, doses of cinnamon at 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon a day significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
Another study of 79 people with type 2 diabetes found that after four months, those taking a cinnamon extract (about 3 grams of cinnamon powder) had a slight but statistically significant reduction in blood glucose levels.
So far, scientists haven’t conducted any large studies, so these results are preliminary, but a little extra daily cinnamon may help.
This perennial herb, native to the tropical forests of southern and central India, has been found in some studies to have potent anti-diabetic properties. It has active compounds called “gymnemic acids” have antidiabetic, antisweetener, and anti-inflammatory activities. Two animal studies published in 1999 found that Gymnema extracts doubled the number of insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas and returned blood sugar to almost normal.
Gymnema has also been found to block the passage in the body that usually absorb sugar, preventing calories from being absorbed that would otherwise alter blood sugar levels. Since research is still preliminary on this herb, most health experts recommend using it only to support standard treatment, not replace it. Dosage is about 400 to 600 mg daily of an extract standardized to contain 24 percent gymnemic acid.
This trace mineral is found in many foods, such as mushrooms, shellfish, black pepper, parsley, beer, wine, and grains. Several animal studies and some small human studies suggest that it may help lower blood sugar levels and improve sensitivity to insulin in people with type 2 diabetes. In one study, it also lowered levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol.
Levels used in the studies, however, were above the currently recommended upper intake level, and scientists don’t know yet whether such high levels are safe. For now, this is one to watch for additional research.
Used for thousands of years in traditional Indian medicine, fenugreek is an herb typically used as a cooking spice and flavoring agent. Some small trials have indicated that fenugreek may help lower blood sugar levels. One trial published in 1988 showed that fenugreek improved blood sugar control and insulin activity in people with type 2 diabetes. An earlier study found similar results in type 1 diabetics. Scientists sued defatted fenugreek seed powder, 50 grams, twice a day during lunch and dinner.
Nopal (Prickly Pear)
Also known as prickly pear, Nopal cactus is used as a food in Mexico, but has also been traditionally used to lower blood glucose levels. It contains soluble fibers and phytochemicals that may slow carbohydrate absorption. One trial published in 1988 found that participants with type 2 diabetes who were given nopal had a significant decline in blood sugar and blood insulin levels. Researchers used 500 grams of broiled nopal stems.
Several animal studies have also shown prickly pear to normalize blood sugar.
Grape Seed Extract
A study in 2009 found that grape seed extract decreased blood glucose levels and average blood glucose concentrations in rats after six weeks. An earlier study published in 2004 had found similar results, with researchers theorizing that the procyanidins in grape seed have insulin-like effects in insulin-sensitive cells, which could explain their effects.
Researchers used doses of about 600 mg of grape seed extract a day.
Do you use natural options to bring down blood sugar levels?
Rabinovitz H, et al., “Effect of chromium supplementation on blood glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus elderly patients,” Int J Vitam Nutr Res 2004 May;74(3):178-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15296075.
SourcesLinus Pauling Institute, “Chromium,” http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/chromium/.
SourcesUniversity of Maryland Medical Center, “American Ginseng,” http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/american-ginseng-000248.htm.
SourcesUniversity Of Toronto (2000, April 14). American Ginseng Reduces Blood Sugar: Implications For Diabetes And Herbal Research. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2000/04/000410122509.htm.
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SourcesHealth Professional Fact Sheet, “Magnesium,” July 13, 2009, http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/.
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Sources”European Journal of Clinical Nutrition”; Effect of Fenugreek Seeds on Blood Glucose and Serum Lipids in Type 1 Diabetes; R.D. Sharma, et al.; 1990. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2194788.
SourcesLaura Shane-McWhorter, “Nopal,” Diabetes Health, April 1, 2005, http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2005/04/01/4260/nopal/.
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Sources”Chinese Medical Journal”; A Novel Approach of Proteomics to Study the Mechanism of Action of Grape Seed Proanthocyanidin Extracts on Diabetic Retinopathy in Rats; M. Li et al.; December 2008.
SourcesPinent M, Blay M, Bladé MC, Salvadó MJ, Arola L, Ardévol A. Grape seed-derived procyanidins have an antihyperglycemic effect in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats and insulinomimetic activity in insulin-sensitive cell lines. Endocrinology. 2004 November 145(11):4985-90. http://www.wellnessresources.com/studies/grape_seed_extracts_help_lower_blood_sugar/.