Lower Your Blood Sugar With These Supplements
Researchers are currently studying a wide variety of supplements to determine their ability to lower blood sugar. These types of supplements could potentially be helpful for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes — especially those with type 2.
Diabetes is long-term condition that affects the the body’s levels of blood sugar and insulin. Specifically, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body is not able to use the insulin it does produce properly.
Treatment generally includes healthy lifestyle changes and medications, but there are some alternative therapies, such as herbal supplements, that can help. However, herbs and nutritional supplements are not a cure for diabetes and aren’t a replacement for medical treatment, but certain supplements can complement conventional therapies to help provide relief from symptoms and decrease the chances of developing complications.
Taking the right supplements alongside your diabetes medication may even lead to your physician decreasing your medication dose, although it’s unlikely that supplements will completely replace your use of medication.
Here Are the Top 10 Supplements That Can Help Lower Blood Sugar.
One review of studies involving cinnamon supplementation saw evidence of a number of positive health benefits, including:
- Improved blood glucose levels.
- Improved insulin levels and insulin sensitivity.
- Decreased amount of lipids (fats) in the blood.
- Increased antioxidants.
- Lower blood pressure.
- More lean body mass.
- Better digestive function. (3)
In another separate review of research studies from 2013, researchers found that subjects taking cinnamon saw:
- A decrease in fasting blood glucose levels.
- A decrease in overall cholesterol levels, as well as LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- Increased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- A decrease in the level of triglycerides (fats) in the blood.
- An increase in insulin sensitivity. (4)
Researchers determined that cinnamon works so well because it may help the body respond better to insulin. This in turn lowers blood sugar by allowing sugar into your cells. (5)
How to Take: It is generally recommended to take a 250mg dose of cinnamon extract twice daily, before eating. If taking the regular form of cinnamon (not an extract), then 500 mg twice a day would be appropriate.
Note: The commonly-used variety of cinnamon, called Cassia, contains higher amounts of a substance known as coumarin, which is a compound that could damage the liver if ingested in high amounts. A much better alternative to take is Ceylon cinnamon, which is low in coumarin (6).
Ceylon cinnamon supplements can be readily found for purchase online.
2. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a common household plant that provides many health benefits. Most people know about its skin care benefits, but you may not know that it could also help slow the progression of type 2 diabetes.
One 2013 research review examined the effects of aloe vera used to treat diabetes in rats. The results indicated that aloe vera may help repair and protect and repair the pancreatic cells that make insulin. Researchers thought that this could be due to aloe vera’s antioxidant properties (14).
How to Take: The optimal dose and form are not currently known. Typical dosages used in research studies include 1,000 mg capsules taken daily, or 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of aloe juice taken twice daily, which can easily be added to a drink or smoothie.
Note: Aloe should not be taken with the heart medication digoxin, and can actually interact with several medications. Be sure to check with your doctor before using it.
Ginseng, (in particular, American Ginseng) has been demonstrated to reduce blood sugar levels by about 20% after eating in people with type 2 diabetes (7).
Also, fasting blood sugar decreased by 10% in those with type 2 diabetes who took 1,000 mg of American ginseng 40 minutes before breakfast, lunch and dinner over a two-month period. (8)
It’s thought that American ginseng can increase insulin production as well as improve cell response to insulin (9).
How to Take: Take 1,000 mg up to two hours prior to meals – taking it sooner than that could cause your blood sugar to dip too low. Taking more than 3,000 mg per day does not appear to provide any added benefits.
Note: Avoid taking the blood thinner warfarin with ginseng as it can reduce the drug’s effectiveness. Ginseng may also stimulate the immune system, which could potentially interfere with immuno-suppressant medications (10).
4. Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics, which contain gut-friendly bacteria and/or other beneficial microbes, provide a wide variety of health benefits and could improve how your body processes carbohydrates (11).
Research shows that individuals with type 2 diabetes taking probiotics for two months or more demonstrated a reduction in fasting blood sugar levels and a decrease in A1C. Those who took probiotics containing more than one strain of bacteria had even lower levels fasting blood sugar levels (12).
It’s believed that probiotics can reduce blood sugar by decreasing inflammation and maintaining healthy pancreatic cells that produce insulin (13).
How to Take: Use a probiotic containing more than one strain, such as a mixture of B. bifidum, L. acidophilus, and L. rhamnosus. However, it’s not currently known if there’s an ideal blend of microbes for treating diabetes specifically.
Note: Probiotic supplements are not likely to cause any issues, but in very rare circumstances it’s possible that people with significantly impaired immune systems could develop serious infections.
In a review of several research studies, the majority showed that 6-24 weeks of magnesium supplementation helped decrease fasting blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.
Additionally, every 50 mg increase of magnesium given to participants resulted a 3% reduction in fasting blood sugar for those who began the studies with low levels of magnesium (20).
It’s thought that magnesium is involved in the body’s normal production of insulin and insulin response.
How to take: Individuals with diabetes should generally take 250–350 mg per day, with a meal to increase absorption.
Note: To avoid the increased risk of diarrhea, avoid taking magnesium oxide supplements. Magnesium can potentially interfere with certain medications, including some antibiotics and diuretics, so speak to your doctor or pharmacist before using.
Berberine is a compound taken from the stems and roots of certain plants, such as phellodendron and goldenseal root.
Research has shown that taking berberine combined with healthy diet and lifestyle changes can decrease fasting blood sugar. Additionally, berberine supplements taken together with diabetes medication helps reduce blood sugar more than taking the medication by itself (15).
It’s believed that berberine works by improving insulin sensitivity and enhancing sugar uptake from the blood into the muscles, helping to lower blood sugar (16).
How to Take: Take 300–500 mg twice per day with meals.
Note: In some individuals, berberine can lead to digestive issues, like diarrhea, gas, or constipation, but may be improved taking a lower dose (300 mg). Berberine could potentially interfere with some medications, so talk to your doctor before using this supplement.
7. Vitamin D
Deficient levels of vitamin D are believed to be a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes. One study involving people with type 2 diabetes and vitamin D deficiency showed an improvement in both fasting blood sugar levels and A1C (17).
It is thought that vitamin D can improve the functioning of the pancreatic cells responsible for making insulin and increasing the body’s responsiveness to insulin.
How to take: Speak to your doctor about taking a vitamin D blood test to figure out the optimal dose for you. The active form of the supplement is D3 (cholecalciferol), so check for this on the label.
Note: Before starting, talk to your doctor of pharmacist about supplementing with vitamin D, as it can result in mild to moderate reactions with certain medications.
A deficiency in chromium deficiency can decrease the body’s ability to convert carbohydrates into sugar for energy, and increase your insulin requirements.
After a large scientific review of numerous studies, it was shown that chromium supplements decreased A1C and fasting blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes (22). There is also some evidence to suggest that chromium could help lower blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes as well (23).
Researchers believe that chromium may boost the effects of insulin or aid the function of pancreatic cells that secrete insulin.
How to take: A normal dose is 200 mcg per day; however, doses as high as 1,000 mcg per day have been used in studies with diabetics and may provide better results. Chromium picolinate is the form of chromium that is best absorbed by the body.
Note: Some drugs, like prescription heartburn medications and over-the-counter antacids, can reduce chromium absorption.
An herb long used in Ayurvedic medicine, Gymnema sylvestre is, the Hindu name for the plant is gurmar, meaning “sugar destroyer”.
Research conducted on people with type 2 diabetes who took 400 mg of gymnema leaf extract per day showed a 29% decrease in fasting blood sugar after several months of supplementation. There was also a noticeable decrease in A1C as well (18).
Additional research indicates that this herb might help decrease cravings for sweets by inhibiting the sweet-tasting sensation of the taste buds.
It’s thought that Gymnema sylvestre may lower the absorption of sugar in the colon and help with sugar uptake from the blood. It’s also been suggested that Gymnema sylvestre might somehow help the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (19).
How to take: It’s recommended to take 200 mg of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract twice daily with meals.
Note: If you are taking insulin injections, only use Gymnema sylvestre with your doctor’s approval, as this supplement can boost the blood sugar effects of insulin.
10. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid, (ALA), is a potent vitamin-like antioxidant compound made by liver and contained in certain foods, like red meats, broccoli, and spinach.
In one study, individuals with type 2 diabetes were give between 300-1,200 mg of ALA together with their regular diabetes treatment. Over a six-month period, their fasting blood sugar and A1C both decreased more as the ALA dosage increased (21).
It’s thought that ALA may enhance insulin sensitivity and the uptake of sugar from the blood, although it could take a few months of supplementation to experience these benefits. It could also protect against the negative effects of oxidation due to elevated blood sugar.
How to take: Dosage is generally anywhere from 600–1,200 mg per day, spread out in dosages to be taken before meals.
Notes: Alpha-lipoic acid could potentially interact with certain therapies for an under- or over-active thyroid. Avoid taking large doses of ALA if you are a heavy drinker or have a thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1).
As we have seen, there are a number of supplements that may help lower blood sugar. Be aware that your individual results may differ from what researchers have found, depending on factors like how long you use the supplement, the supplement’s quality and the individual makeup of your body.
Speak with your physician prior to introducing any supplement to your regimen, especially if you’re taking medication or insulin for diabetes, since some supplements could interfere with medicines and increase the risk of blood sugar dipping too low.
At some point, your doctor may decide to reduce the dosage of your diabetes medication.
Start with one new supplement at a time and monitor your blood sugar often, noting any changes. This way you’ll have a more accurate way to assess the supplement’s effects.