Diabetes is a lifelong condition affecting more than 350 million people worldwide. It’s when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or your cells don’t respond to it properly. This causes glucose (sugar) levels in your blood to rise above normal.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
The good news is there are many natural ways you can help manage this chronic condition. And while medications may be necessary at times, they come with side effects.
Here are eight herbs and supplements that research has shown to be beneficial for treating diabetes.
Research shows that hyssop might help control glucose levels. A study conducted by the University of Catania in Italy found that extracts from the plant lowered fasting blood sugar levels in diabetic rats. Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology confirmed these results.
The researchers noted that compounds present in the leaves and flowers of the plant could inhibit key enzymes involved in carbohydrate digestion. These include alpha amylase and maltase, which break down carbohydrates into absorbable sugars.
Hyssop contains flavonoids, polysaccharides, essential oils, and anti-inflammatory properties that work together to improve glucose metabolism. This means that it reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels, prevents cell damage and improves circulation.
You can use both fresh and dried hyssop leaf and flower stems. You’ll want to steep them in hot water for 20 minutes. Strain out the leaves and save the liquid to drink as an herbal tea.
Cinnamon has long been used as a spice, but its health benefits are now being recognized around the world. Research suggests cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels.
A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition reviews how cinnamon can reduce blood sugar spikes associated with meals high in fat or sugary foods. One possible mechanism through which cinnamon works is by slowing down the movement of food particles across the digestive tract. As a result, the rate of absorption slows down, allowing the release of glucose to remain constant throughout the day.
Another study published in Diabetes Care showed that taking 300 mg of cinnamon daily for 12 weeks helped diabetics maintain their weight and improved their overall well-being.
To reap the full benefit of cinnamon, add some ground cinnamon to recipes where its flavor will enhance other ingredients. Some delicious dishes to try include apple pie filling, oatmeal cookies, applesauce, pumpkin muffins, warm milk, and hot chocolate.
- Ginger root
Ginger root has been used as medicine in Asia for centuries. In fact, ancient Chinese texts mention ginger’s effectiveness against nausea, vomiting, colds, flu, fever, and sore throat. Today we know that ginger also has antioxidant properties, which makes it useful to fight free radicals that contribute to cancer and heart disease.
In one clinical trial, researchers divided participants into three groups. Group 1 took placebo pills for six days. Groups 2 and 3 were given 250 milligrams of ginger powder per day for six days. At the end of the trial period, researchers found that ginger was able to significantly increase the amount of insulin released after eating. They also discovered that ginger increased the sensitivity of beta cells to insulin. Beta cells are responsible for producing insulin.
This means that ginger increases the number of functioning beta cells, thus enhancing the ability of the body to convert carbs into energy. Taking ginger before each meal can therefore help you feel fuller faster and stay away from unhealthy snacks.
If you prefer the taste of fresh ginger over powdered ginger, take about 2 teaspoons of chopped gingerroot per day. If you’re not fond of ginger, consider adding turmeric instead. Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound known to boost insulin production.
- Grapeseed extract
Grape seed extract is made from the skins and seeds of crushed grapes. Its main ingredient is resveratrol, an antioxidant chemical found in red wine. Resveratrol is believed to protect our bodies from oxidation caused by pollutants, UV radiation, and even cigarette smoke.
Resveratrol may also play a role in preventing inflammation, a process whereby white blood cells cause tissue damage. Inflammation contributes to conditions like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, colon cancer and osteoarthritis.
Studies show that grape seed extract lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Other studies indicate that grape seed extract helps keep fats under control and prevent obesity.
It has also been reported to reduce the risk of certain cancers including breast, prostate, lung, liver, pancreatic, and cervical cancer.
One thing to note is that grape seed extract may interfere with oral contraceptives. Talk to your doctor if you plan on using this supplement.
Turmeric is a yellow spice commonly used in Indian cooking. But did you know that turmeric has medicinal value? Research indicates that it can help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce fatigue, and treat symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Turmeric contains active constituents called curcuminoids. Curcuminoids have been linked to better memory, reduced pain, and enhanced immunity. Studies suggest that consuming turmeric on a regular basis may even slow cognitive decline.
Curcumin has also been studied for its potential to treat diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Curcumin supplementation in animal studies resulted in decreased insulin resistance and elevated immune function. However, according to current guidelines, scientific evidence does not support using turmeric as a dietary supplement for improving glycemic control in adults with Type 2 diabetes.
For best results, eat turmeric alongside healthy meals and choose turmeric products with plenty of antioxidants.
- Fenugreek seeds
Fenugreek seeds contain phytoestrogens, chemicals similar to estrogen that bind themselves to estrogen receptors in humans. Phytoestrogens may help relieve symptoms of menopause and postmenopausal problems. They may also stimulate bone growth, reduce inflammation, and encourage muscle development.
Other studies suggest fenugreek seeds promote satiety, which means you’ll feel fuller sooner and avoid overeating. Fenugreek seeds can be added directly to salads, soups, and stir fries. Sprinkle fenugreek seeds on whole grain cereals and crackers. Or grind up the seeds and mix with yogurt for breakfast.
Fenugreek seeds should be stored in airtight containers in a dark, cool place. To maximize their shelf life, remove any damaged or moldy seeds first.
- Psyillium husk fiber
Psyillium fiber is extracted from rice bran and germ. Like most fibers, psyillium promotes feelings of satiety and may provide relief for those suffering from constipation. Plus, it can help lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar.
An Italian study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that patients who took 30 grams of psyillium husk fiber every day for five months experienced significant reductions in HbA1c levels. Hba1c measures average blood sugar readings over time. Lowering HbA1c levels can reduce the risk of developing complications related to diabetes.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, psyillium fiber can also prevent stomach ulcers. Researchers believe that psyillium binds bile acids in the small intestine, reducing intestinal absorption. Bile acids are fatty substances produced by the liver that aid in digestion. When absorbed by the gut, bile acid can irritate tissues and lead to ulcer formation. By binding to bile acids, psyillium protects the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes contain large amounts of carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamin C, and potassium. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that help neutralize harmful toxins within the body. Potatoes are rich in potassium, which plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels. Vitamin C boosts collagen production and supports wound healing. Lastly, sweet potatoes are low in calories and fat.
Take advantage of this tasty vegetable by incorporating it into stews, soups, casseroles, pancakes, breads, salads, and frittatas. Try roasting peeled cubed sweet potato chunks until tender and topping with brown sugar. Or slice off a chunk, toss it with olive oil and salt, wrap tightly in foil, and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit F until soft. Enjoy!
Bonus herb: Fish oil
Fish oil supplements are often recommended for lowering cholesterol and managing risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. According to a review published in Obesity Reviews, fish oil capsules appear to be safe and effective for controlling lipid profiles in overweight/obese individuals.
However, experts emphasize that fish oil supplements shouldn’t replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. There are several important nutrients missing from fish oil, including omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids may help to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, decrease VLDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides.
Experts recommend getting your fill of omega-3 fatty acids from sources other than supplements.