While most diabetes patients are on a strict regimen of prescription medication, diet, and exercise that is essential to maintaining their health, many incorporating herbs and supplements into their diet to help them best manage the disease in a natural way.
Some healthcare practitioners are wary of this trend, fearing potential interactions with medication and side effects over the long term, but recent studies indicate that many of these alternative treatments hold promise.
Here are some of the more popular ones.
Cinnamon has been shown to be effective in lowering blood sugar in uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, according to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.1 Of the two varieties of cinnamon—ceylon and cassia—only cassia cinnamon is said to have beneficial effects. Daily doses can range from one-quarter of a teaspoon to about a teaspoon and a quarter (1-6 grams).
According to a Canadian study, American ginseng may help slow carbohydrate absorption, increase the body’s ability to use glucose, and increase insulin secretion from the pancreas. Test subjects who benefited took three grams of the herb 40 minutes before each meal.
Chromium may lower blood sugar control for those who have a deficiency in this essential trace mineral. Chromium occurs naturally in many of the foods we eat, including meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. The Recommended Daily Allowance for chromium is 50-200 mcg per day. Type II diabetes patients may benefit from dosages up to 1,000 mcg per day.
Vanadium is another trace mineral, though non-essential, that may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes. Vanadium is found in mushrooms, shellfish, black pepper, parsley, dill, and grain. For those with glucose intolerance, a supplement of 100 mg per day may be taken.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an anti-oxidant that neutralizes free radicals, which can build up in the body due to high blood sugar and lead to nerve damage. ALA may also help the body use insulin more efficiently. We get the ALA through our diet from such foods as liver, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes, but it may also be taken in supplemental form. Dosages of 600 to 1,200 mg per day help with insulin sensitivity and the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Botanicals such as bitter melon, fenugreek, and aloe vera may have beneficial effects on diabetic patients. Two clinical trials reported improved blood sugar levels after 6 weeks of drinking aloe vera juice, which can also be used to treat burns, promote wound healing, and relieve constipation. Bitter melon, a tropical fruit that is rich in vitamins and minerals, was reported to reduce blood glucose in 2011 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Fenugreek is another beneficial botanical for people with diabetes. Taken daily as a tincture or seeds soaked in hot can help control blood sugar.
Consult your doctor
As with all medications, check with your doctor before taking herbs or supplements to help manage your diabetes. Then watch your blood sugar closely so you and your doctor can respond quickly to any new fluctuations.