In the first 4 parts of our series on Diabetes Mellitis, we discussed type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, methods of prevention, and conventional survival strategies. In this, our closing segment, we will discuss various natural remedies reported to have a beneficial effect on the disease. We will especially concentrate on substances that you can either grow in your garden or stockpile in quantity for times of trouble.
For the earlier parts of this series, click the links below:
There is controversy regarding most of the below because the proof of effectiveness simply does not exist in most scientific studies. Without these studies, however, it’s difficult to determine the appropriate dosage of a particular natural substance to achieve an anti-diabetic effect. Some may have side-effects if used in excess. As such, there is currently no natural supplement that is recognized by the FDA as both safe and effective in the treatment of diabetes.
Despite this, an open mind is a good thing to have when the pharmaceuticals run out. I am not suggesting that you will achieve perfect control of blood glucose levels, but you can possibly prevent life-threatening high sugar states such as Diabetic Ketoacidosis (described in earlier parts of this series). Some benefit is better than none at all. If you’d like to try an alternative therapy, don’t stop taking standard anti-diabetic drugs and discuss the below supplements with your doctor; If you are currently taking medicine, there may be interactions with what you’re currently taking.
It’s important to remember the role of diet and exercise in keeping glucose levels in check, especially in type 2 diabetes (discussed in Part 4). The likely event will be that dietary restriction and physical exertion will just be part and parcel of early survival. It is important to gear food supplies to provide a protein-rich diet to your diabetic patients.
There are various supplements of trace elements thought to improve diabetic control:
Magnesium: Some studies suggest that a deficit of Magnesium in your system worsens sugar control. Diabetics are thought to be deficient in this element. Low levels of Magnesium seem to correlate with increased resistance to insulin. Insulin lowers blood sugars, so a resistance to insulin results in higher blood sugars. As well, high magnesium intake (200 mg/day) is associated with a decreased risk of developing diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recognizes this but stops short of recommending Magnesium supplementation as a treatment.
Vanadium: A trace element in a number of plants, animal studies seem to suggest that that blood sugar levels can be improved in both type 1 and type 2 cases. Safe dosages for human use have yet to be determined.
Chromium: For the last decade, chromium supplements have been reported as having a positive action against diabetes, mostly for its ability to strengthen the action of insulin. As Chromium may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, this may be useful for healthy people who may be prediabetic, obese, or otherwise prone to cardiac disease.
Zinc: A 2012 study in the Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome journal reveals that zinc supplementation reduced fasting glucose by 18 points and post-meal glucose by 35 points, confirming some animal studies. In addition, it had beneficial effects of cholesterol and triglycerides. 15 mg/day of zinc is the recommended daily allowance for adults. Remember that overdose can cause upset stomach and other side-effects.
Some vitamins and vitamin-like substances may have a beneficial effect on diabetes:
Vitamin B1, B6, B12: Studies done in countries where Vitamin deficiencies are rampant show that patients low in Vitamin B tend to have more pain from diabetic nerve damage. Not all vitamin B’s are necessarily beneficial. High doses of Niacin (B3) supplementation may actually impair glucose levels.
Vitamin C: Some studies relate that moderate usage of Vitamin C may improve glucose levels, while higher doses may worsen glucose control.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is needed to maintain blood levels of insulin. Some evidence suggests that supplementation can improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, not enough is known about what the optimal dose would be for daily use. High levels of vitamin D may be toxic. Vitamin D is produced naturally in the body by exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin E: Low blood levels of vitamin E are associated with higher rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Vitamin E supplementation has, in some studies, improved glucose tolerance in people with type 2 diabetes after three months of use. 900 IU of vitamin E per day is the usual dose.
Coenzyme Q10: This is an antioxidant substance found is certain meats and seafood and acts similarly to a vitamin. Type 2 diabetics have been found to have lower blood levels of CoQ10 than the general population. Commonly available at 50-300mg dosages, its properties suggest a number of benefits, including reducing pain from nerve damage caused by type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Alpha-lipoic Acid: A powerful natural antioxidant, Preliminary trials have found that 600 to 1,200 mg of Alpha-lipoic acid daily improves insulin sensitivity. Long-term therapy with the same dosage slowed the progression of kidney damage in type 2 diabetes.
Fish Oil: Fish oils contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, responsible for a number of health benefits. Glucose tolerance tests improve in healthy people taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Some studies have found that fish oil supplementation also improves glucose tolerance, high triglycerides, and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Many plants are rich in vitamins and minerals that are important for good health, but some may have a specific effect against diabetes:
Ginseng: Studies have shown that American Ginseng intake can decrease fasting, post-meal, and long-term sugar levels. Asian (Korean red) Ginseng has, in one study, improved long-term control when compared to placebo. Ginseng increases insulin levels following meals and assists insulin in passing glucose through cell membranes.
Clove: Clove oil has been found to help augment the action of insulin to lower glucose. Cholesterol and triglycerides are also improved. One study points to improvement when taking the equivalent of one to two cloves per day.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon extracts can increase sugar metabolism as well as augment the release of insulin. After a 2007 study stated that Cinnamon had no effect on diabetes, another published in 2009 found that poorly controlled type 2 diabetics who take 500 mg of cinnamon twice a day for 90 days improved hemoglobin A1C levels. Hemoglobin A1C is a test that identifies the level of sugar control over the previous 2-3 months.
Goldenseal:Goldenseal is thought to have an insulin-like effect in the body.
Coffee: An as-yet undetermined ingredient of coffee (apparently not caffeine) appears to play some role in making cells more sensitive to insulin, something that would be very helpful for type 2 diabetics.
Fenugreek: One human study found that fenugreek can help blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Some trials suggest that fenugreek helps improve blood sugar control in both type 1 and type 2 patients.
Olive Leaf: Olive leaf extracts have been found to lower elevated blood-sugar levels in one study using diabetic animals. Human results are not yet conclusive.
Quercetin: Quercetin is a “flavonoid”, a constituent found in certain fruits, vegetables, and grains. It may decrease levels of sorbitol, a sugar that accumulates in cells of organs damaged by diabetes, especially nerves, kidneys, and eyes.
Bitter Melon: Bitter Melon has 3 constituents that may lower blood sugars, according to some studies. Indeed, the combination of these substances may work to strengthen the anti-diabetic effect.
Ginkgo Biloba: Preliminary research suggests that Ginkgo biloba may be useful for prevention or treatment of early-stage diabetic nerve damage.
Additional natural substances that may one day be shown to have a positive effect on diabetic control or complications of diabetes:
I will be writing in the future about a number of the substances in the list above as I investigate more regarding their use in diabetes. I have to admit that the amount of information (often conflicting) and the number of natural remedies for diabetes were more than I expected to find. More and more studies will be needed in order to confirm the true utility of each alternative method of treating diabetes. However, it is encouraging that researchers are performing evaluations on so many of the above. I look forward to their findings.
Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones
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