Avoid the Risks of Blood Sugar Imbalance and Diabetes with These Simple Herbal Solutions
Posted Jul 08 2009 11:07am
Consider these staggering statistics: according to the American Diabetes Association, about 24 million people suffer from diabetes and a whopping 5 million people are undiagnosed and don’t even know they have the disease! 1 Overall, 54 million Americans suffer from some degree of blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance. 1 Most of these people have type II diabetes, which is largely preventable with a healthy diet low-carb, low-sugar diet.
As a practicing physician, I was never taught any primary preventative measures for my patients. At most, I was given some detective tools, such as screening blood sugar in “at risk” patients. It baffles me, as I look back, that I couldn’t see the huge gap in my medical school and residency training. We did nothing to prevent diabetes and did very little to address the underlying mechanisms that stimulate abnormal sugar metabolism!
The main focus of conventional medicine today is still all about using prescription drugs to lower blood sugar, which is too late if you want to reverse the disease itself. There is no question that people with diabetes experience an elevated risk for a variety of other illnesses including heart disease and stroke, blindness, peripheral nerve disease and pain, kidney damage and failure, impotency and skin disorders.
In a 2003 report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, childhood obesity rose to 16% of children between ages 6 and 11 (95th percentile of body mass index for age) plus an additional 14.3% were from the 85th to the 95th percentile. This report pointed out that as these children’s body weights increased, so did their consumption of fast foods and soft drinks, trending up by nearly 300%! 2
I shudder when I read articles like the one reported in the October 2005 Annals of Internal Medicine, which tracked 4,000 adults over 30 years for the development of obesity. It verified that becoming abnormally overweight now has a current trend such that nine out of 10 men and seven out of 10 women will become overweight! With obesity playing such a huge role in diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, depression and many cancers — no wonder the researchers concluded, ”more effective prevention and treatment strategies are urgently needed.”
Herbs to Help with Diabetes Control If you have been diagnosed with insulin resistance or high blood sugar levels, there are certain nutrients you can take to help control and even lower your blood sugar level.
Several herbal preparations have been used to control blood sugar levels beginning as early as 1550 B.C. 3 Here are a few of the herbs that have been adequately studied to determine their actual effects and potencies.
Gymnema sylvestre (leaf). This age-old herb from tropical India destroys sugar taste when the leaves are chewed and is often promoted as an appetite suppressant for weight-loss. More importantly, several small placebo-controlled trials show that gymnema extracts lower blood sugar levels by enhancing the action of insulin. Animal studies indicate that gymnemacan double the number of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and bring blood sugar levels to normal. Research findings also indicate that gymnema can improve blood sugar control so that smaller doses of oral diabetes drugs are needed. Several human trials clearly show quite a significant improvement in blood sugar levels with gymnema. 4
Fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum-graecum ). Fenugreek has been found to improve glucose levels, presumably by decreasing absorption of glucose in the small intestine. One large fenugreek study examined participants with poorly controlled Type II diabetes and found an average fasting blood sugar decrease from 151 mg/dL (baseline) to 112 mg/dL after 24 weeks. 5
Ginseng root (Korean and American ginseng). Ginseng has been studied and used as a treatment for infections and diabetes generally for up to three months with repeated courses. One study showed a significant reduction in post-prandial glucose versus placebo in Type II diabetes. 6
Citrus aurantium (orange bitters). This herb stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, thus increasing metabolism and lowering appetite.
Milk thistle ( Silybum marianum ). Milk thistle is extremely good at cleansing the liver, an important factor in diabetes. In doses over 1,500 mg per day, loose stools as a result of increased bile flow and secretion can occur. 7 This desired effect makes it the herb of choice for any liver-related diseases, including liver toxicity associated with acetaminophen, anti-psychotics, halothane, and alcohol. 8
Green tea. Green tea helps increase metabolism and reduce chronic disease. It significantly reduces food intake, body weight, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In one study, green tea increased insulin activity by about 15-fold, an effect of the active ingredient, EGCG. 9
Bilberry ( Vaccinium myrtillus ). Bilberry leaves have a reported weak anti-diabetic activity and have been shown experimentally to lower blood sugar levels consistently by 26% in rats. 10 In folk medicine, its blood sugar-reducing effect is touted so that it is a common constituent in ”anti-diabetic” teas. 11
Cinnamon. This spice increases sugar metabolism in rodent fat cells 20-fold according to a report in Diabetes Care. Researchers found that less than one-half teaspoon of cinnamon daily for 40 days significantly dropped blood sugar levels in 60 study participants with Type II diabetes.
Devil’s claw ( Oplopanax horridum ). The Devil’s claw plant reportedly contains insulin-like substances, but its chemistry is still under investigation. The root can be made into a tincture and just five drops on the tongue can help stop sugar cravings.
Blood sugar imbalance and diabetes are both treatable without risky prescription medications if you are willing to take an honest look at what you eat, examine how active you are, and monitor how much stress you experience every day. To help normalize elevated blood sugar levels, consider one or more of the supplements recommended in this article.
American Diabetes Association, Cowie CC, et al. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. Diabetes Care. 29(6):1263-1268, 2006.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec 2003. Vol. 78, No. 6, 1068-1073.
David Fitz-Patrick, D. Diabetes and Hormone Center of the Pacific, Ala Moana Pacific Center, Honolulu, Hawaii; http://www.endocrinologist.com/herbs.html.
Shane-McWhorter, L. Diabetes Spectrum. 14:199-208, 2001.
Sharma RD, et al. Nutr Res. 16:1331-1339,1996.
Vuksan V, et al. Arch Intern Med. 160:1009-1013, 2000.
Luper S.: Altern Med Rev. 3:410-421, 1998.
Pepping J: Am J Health Syst Pharm. 56:1195-1197,1999.
Richard A. Anderson, RA, Ph.D. From the University of California in Santa Barbara but on behalf of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, MD.
Cignarella A, et al. Thromb Res. 84:311-322, 1996.
[ Ed. Note: Michael Cutler, M.D. is a board-certified family physician with more than 17 years of clinical experience. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Tulane Medical School. Dr. Cutler's practice focuses on integrative solutions to health problems, and behavioral and nutritional medicine. For more information, visit www.truehealth.com.]