Six Nutrients to Help Control Blood Sugar

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Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Six Nutrients to Help Control Blood Sugar

Over the years, I’ve recommended quite a few ways to control your blood sugar. In addition to the obvious ways of controlling your diet and getting more active physically, several supplements are known to be beneficial. Here’s a summary of those recommendations. All of these items are available either as stand-alone products or in combination formulas. You can find them in health food stores or online.

Cinnamon

I’ve been recommending the routine use of cinnamon for years now. Recent studies have added so much support to this idea that you could now call cinnamon “the poor man’s insulin.” And with the full-blown epidemic of diabetes that we’ll continue to see for years to come, the world will need a form of insulin for the poor.

One gram (slightly less than a half-teaspoon) of cinnamon per day was given to 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes. In just 40 days, this small amount of cinnamon reduced fasting glucose levels anywhere from 18 to 29 percent, triglyceride levels 23 to 30 percent, LDL cholesterol levels 7 to 27 percent, and total cholesterol 12 to 26 percent. No advantages or greater improvements were found when larger doses were given. Also, when the participants stopped taking the cinnamon, their blood sugar levels and other readings began to return to former levels. (J Agri Food Chem 04;52:65–70) (Diabetes Care 03;26:3215–3218)

Vitamin D

A series of studies have shown that vitamin D levels are connected to insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels. In a recent study, researchers at the University of California found that low vitamin D levels resulted in insulin resistance and improper function of the pancreatic cells that help produce insulin.

If you, or your family, have a history of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), then adequate amounts of vitamin D are even more important. At least 30 minutes a day in the sunshine (without a sunscreen) would be helpful, and a daily multivitamin  that includes a minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D would be highly recommended. (Am J Clin Nutr 04;79:820–825)

Chromium

This element may very well be the single most important supplement for heading off diabetes at the pass. Many authorities now feel that dietary chromium deficiencies may be directly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, the type that accounts for approximately 95 percent of all diabetes cases.

Chromium is required by your body to metabolize sugar (and fat). Without it, tissue cells become insensitive to insulin. With it, insulin becomes up to 100 times more efficient at getting glucose converted into energy. Chromium will help, though, only if your pancreas still secretes insulin. Chromium also doesn’t seem to improve the efficiency of insulin given therapeutically.

With today’s highly processed foods and high sugar diets, it’s difficult to get adequate chromium through your diet alone. In addition, white sugar depletes the mineral. (Around 100 micrograms [mcg] of chromium are required to metabolize every 100 grams of white sugar.) Physical trauma and strenuous exercise also deplete chromium.

Most nutritional authorities now feel that we should be getting at least 200 mcg daily, and even this may not be enough for those with diabetes. One study out of South Africa showed that when diabetics were given a 600 mcg chromium supplement for four months, their fasting glucose levels fell by more than half! Almost half of those were able to significantly decrease their daily medication requirements.

Chromium is available as part of a variety of compounds, but I’ve had the best results with the form known as chromium polynicotinate.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Studies have shown that 200 mg daily of alpha lipoic acid (ALA) can help reduce the kidney and nerve damage often seen in diabetes. One study found that 600 mg taken twice daily can significantly reduce the need for insulin. After a month of treatment, the ALA also reduced the fasting levels of lactate and pyruvate, and increased insulin sensitivity and glucose effectiveness. (Diabetes Care 99;22:280–287)

Gymnema sylvestre

For hundreds of years, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine in India have recommended using the leaves of the plant Gymnema sylvestre to treat adult-onset diabetes. Through the use of this herb alone, at a dosage of 400 mg daily, many individuals have been able to discontinue their use of oral diabetic medications. Research also indicates that extracts of this tropical plant decreased fasting blood sugar levels, normalized blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), lowered insulin requirements, and enhanced production of insulin by pancreatic cells.

It appears that many of these feats resulted from the repair and/or regeneration of the actual insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. In one study performed on rats, researchers had the added advantage of utilizing autopsies. Their findings were remarkable. In the diabetic rats pancreas weight increased almost 30 percent! The number of islets and beta cells (the structures responsible for producing and delivering insulin) more than doubled! To add even more icing to the cake, gymnema, unlike conventional medications didn’t alter hormone release in those rats with normal blood sugar. (J Ethnopharm 90;30:265–279, 281–305)

In studies involving human subjects, the results were positive not only for adult onset diabetes but for juvenile diabetes as well.

Ginseng

Doctors at the University of Toronto have reported that American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L) can be used to reduce blood sugar levels by individuals with type 2 diabetes.

American ginseng capsules were given 40 minutes before diabetic individuals were given an oral glucose challenge. Those who took the ginseng were found to have a 20 percent reduction in blood sugar levels compared to the results obtained with placebo capsules.

This study was particularly interesting for several reasons. It revealed that when ginseng was taken with a meal, no change in blood sugar levels occurred. The timing of the ginseng consumption seemed to be crucial, requiring a period of at least 40 minutes to pass before consuming a meal.

Additionally, the researchers found that there was no drop in blood sugar levels when the ginseng was taken alone and not followed by a meal. This characteristic is particularly beneficial in therapies used to lower blood sugar levels. Drugs used to treat high blood sugar can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar (hypoglycemic conditions) if food is not eaten immediately after they are taken. Ginseng, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to work this way. Instead of directly lowering blood sugar levels, ginseng either increases the production or secretion of insulin, which in turn lowers the blood sugar, or it increases the effectiveness of the existing insulin. All of these factors make ginseng a potentially safe, natural, and effective tool for both treating and preventing type 2 diabetes.

I would suggest starting with 500–1,000 mg 40 minutes before meals and working the dosage up or down from there depending on what your blood sugar tests reveal.

Type 2 diabetes can almost always be controlled through proper diet, supplement use, weight loss, and exercise. When these factors aren’t properly addressed, however, the use of insulin or other medication becomes necessary. Before you go down that road, however, try giving these natural therapies a shot.

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