Before pharmaceutical drugs were widely available, people used natural herbs and spices for medicinal purposes. For example, have you ever considered why we are told to drink ginger ale when sick? It is because ginger is a natural remedy for digestive upset, and has been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness, pregnancy, and even chemotherapy.
For diabetics (or anyone that has a genetic predisposition to diabetes), there are quite a few foods and supplements that have been shown to positively affect insulin sensitivity.
Research studies have suggested that ingesting cinnamon can help decrease blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity. It slows stomach emptying, which decreases post-meal high blood sugar levels.
Taking 1-6g doses daily of cinnamon, in conjunction with traditional medications, seem to lower fasting glucose levels. Taking too much can affect your liver, so use caution if you have liver problems.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Diabetics tend to have high triglyceride levels and low HDL levels. Omega-3 (from fish oil) has been shown to positively impact the cholesterol profile by lowering triglyceride levels and raising HDL levels. They may also slightly increase insulin sensitivity through their effect on the fluidity of cell membranes. Omega-3’s also help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
With Diabetes, our bodies usually create a lot of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells. ALA is a very powerful anti-oxidant that can migrate to parts of our bodies that other antioxidants can’t, such as the brain. Because of this, ALA can be very effective at treating diabetic neuropathy (assuming blood glucose is under control) by removing free radicals from the damaged nerve root. ALA also increases insulin sensitivity and glycemic control.
The actions of chromium are not completely understood, but it is known that adequate levels of chromium are needed for carbohydrate metabolism and proper insulin action. Clinical studies are showing that chromium supplementation (as many Americans are deficient in chromium) can have a positive effect on people with glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes, as well as gestational diabetes, resulting in better fasting glucose levels, as well as better HbA1c (long-term) results. Brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, asparagus, and whole grains are good food sources of chromium.
Bitter melon is a fruit, also known as bitter gourd or karela, which is commonly consumed in Asia and the Caribbean. No true clinical trials have proven effectiveness, but anecdotal evidence suggests that consuming 1 small fruit over the course of the day can significantly reduce blood sugar. It appears to work similarly to Metformin. When used in concert with pharmaceuticals, it can reduce blood glucose levels to the point of hypoglycemia, so do not add this to your diet without the supervision of a physician.
In multiple recent studies, low magnesium levels have been consistently found in those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, and have been linked to the development of insulin resistance. Magnesium plays an important role in glucose and insulin management, and is typically lacking in the American diet. Among other actions, it is needed for the body to activate an enzyme called tyrosine kinase, which is important in the functioning of your insulin receptors (specifically how sensitive they are). In addition, diabetics tend to excrete magnesium in their urine, making maintaining adequate levels more difficult.
Magnesium glycinate is the best form in terms of absorption if you are going to take a supplement. There are also many magnesium containing foods, including dark green leafy vegetables and pumpkin seeds. The amount of magnesium in foods, though, is very dependent on how magnesium-rich the soil is in which they are grown.
Not enough conclusive research has been done on any of these supplements to show sufficient evidence of effectiveness. Be sure to speak with your doctor before adding supplementation or making any changes to your medications.