In part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series, I discussed types, symptoms, emergencies, and much more relating to diabetes. Some strategies were offered that, while not viable options in normal times, may be all the family medic has available in a true long-term survival scenario. In this part, we’ll discuss some natural remedies that, albeit controversial, may have potential as tools in the medical woodshed.
I say “controversial” because the proof of effectiveness simply for some does not exist in scientific studies. Without research, it’s difficult to determine the appropriate dosage of a natural substance that might achieve an anti-diabetic effect. Some may have side-effects if used in excess (yes, natural products may have side-effects). 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. Perfect control of blood glucose levels is probably impossible, but you could 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 anti-diabetic drugs before discussing the below supplements with your doctor; If you are currently taking medicine, there may be interactions.
It’s important to remember the role of diet and exercise in keeping glucose levels in check, especially in type 2 diabetes. The likely event will be that dietary restriction and physical exertion will just be part and parcel of activities of daily survival. Obtain food supplies that provide a protein-rich diet to your diabetic loved ones.
Substances detected in small but not precisely known amounts in the body were once called “trace elements.” This is because the exact amount present there could not be precisely measured. Modern technology has made measurements possible, but you’ll still hear the term or, possibly, “micronutrients.” There are various micronutrients thought to improve diabetic control:
Magnesium: Some studies suggest that a deficit of magnesium in your system worsens sugar control. Diabetics are, thus, 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 effect against diabetes, mostly for its ability to strengthen the action of insulin. As Chromium may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, it may be useful for healthy people who may be prediabetic, obese, or otherwise prone to cardiac disease.
Zinc: A 2012 study revealed that zinc supplementation reduced fasting glucose by 18 points and post-meal glucose by 35 points, confirming some animal studies. In addition, benefits were noted in cases of high cholesterol and triglycerides. 15 mg/day of zinc is the recommended daily allowance for adults. 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 beneficial, however. 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 mega-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. Vitamin D is produced naturally in the body by exposure to sunlight, but 40 percent of Americans are thought to be deficient.
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 that 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. Some studies have found that fish oil supplementation 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.
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 discussed in earlier parts of this series 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 different 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 abound that may one day be shown to have a positive effect on diabetes:
- Primrose oil
- Crepe Myrtle
I have to admit that the amount of information (often conflicting) about and the number of natural remedies for diabetes are so numerous that a skeptical mind would doubt that all of them are equally effective. More and more studies will be needed in order to confirm the true utility of each alternative method of treating diabetes. it’s encouraging, at least, that researchers are performing evaluations on so many of the above.
Joe Alton MD
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