Some people find using alternative treatments in conjunction with their traditional treatments helpful in managing their diabetes. As is the case with many alternative treatments for any disease or condition, opinions are often mixed as to the efficacy of some treatment methods, and research is often minimal in comparison to traditional medicine treatments.

However, many people have had success in using alternative treatments in the management of many diseases and conditions, including diabetes. Before trying any alternative treatments, you should always check with your doctor to be sure that the methods are safe and right for you.

Herbs and Supplements

Some over-the-counter dietary supplements and herbs are believed by some to help control the symptoms of diabetes. However, there is no definitive clinical evidence to suggest that herbs and nutritional supplements are effective in managing diabetes.

Alpha-lipoic Acid

Alpha-lopic acid is an antioxidant found in liver, spinach, broccoli, potatoes and other foods. It is believed to lower blood glucose levels by improving the body’s ability to use insulin and possibly help against diabetic neuropathy (a nerve disorder). While some studies have found benefits, more research is needed into those claims. Diabetics should monitor their blood sugar closely with alpha-lipoic acid because it could lower blood sugar too far.

Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace mineral that may help control blood glucose levels. It occurs naturally in broccoli, grape juice, potatoes, garlic, and other fruits and vegetables. Research has been mixed with regard to chromium’s effect on glucose control in diabetics. Short-term, low-dose use of chromium appears to be safe for most adults. However, diabetics could see blood sugar levels drop too far. High doses can cause kidney problems and other serious side effects.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These good fats—found naturally in walnuts, salmon, soybeans, and other foods—have been proven effective for lowering triglycerides and reducing heart disease risk in people with type 2 diabetes without affecting blood glucose control. In some studies, omega-3 fatty acids also raised LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are antioxidants found in tea, dark chocolate, and other foods. They are being studied for potential benefits on the body’s ability to use insulin and protect blood vessels. Some studies suggest that polyphenols found in green tea may protect against cardiovascular disease and have a beneficial effect on insulin activity and glucose control. However, many sources of polyphenols also contain caffeine, which in some people can cause insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and other adverse effects.

Other Supplements

For controlling blood glucose levels, other herbs and supplements have been tested with some success. However, much of the research is limited or has turned out mixed results.

  • Garlic – Results are inconsistent.
  • Magnesium – Studies are inconsistent in confirming supplements are effective for treating diabetes, but a diet high in magnesium can help lower the risk of diabetes
  • Ginseng – A small University of Toronto study found ginseng helpful in blood-sugar response following a meal in type 2 diabetics.
  • Gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre) – One study in India found gurmar leaf powder to have “positive and encouraging effects” on blood sugar levels in diabetics, but more studies are needed.
  • Vanadium – A few studies show vanadium’s ability to increase a person’s sensitivity to insulin; however not enough evidence exists to recommend the treatment to diabetics.
  • Prickly pear cactus (Oputina) – While definitive conclusions cannot be made regarding the effectiveness of the herbal remedy, one study’s findings suggest benefits regarding control of diabetes.
  • Coccinia indica – This Bengal herb was tested in limited amounts but showed promising results in glucose tolerance in adult-onset diabetes.
  • Aloe vera – Study results are mixed on aloe vera’s effectiveness with type 2 diabetics and more research is needed.

Mind/Body Approaches

Having a chronic, lifelong condition like diabetes is more than a physical challenge; it can be mentally stressful as well. Because an increased production of stress hormones reduces insulin action, feelings of stress can raise blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Also, patients under perceived stress may find that caring for their diabetes is less of a priority, leading to poor glycemic control.

Decreasing stress reactions by meditation, deep breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques may lead to better glucose control and improvement in immune system function.

Relaxation Therapy

Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can reduce stress; alter hormone levels; enhance mood; and reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline levels. Studies have been done to show that various relaxation techniques ranging from yoga practice to biofeedback therapy can help keep excess stress hormones in check, thereby stabilizing stabilize glucose levels and protecting the heart. Both are very important issues for people with diabetes.

Acupuncture

This technique, used in traditional Chinese medicine, involves placing very thin needles in strategic points on the body. Acupuncture may help alleviate diabetes symptoms. Acupressure, based on the same schema as acupuncture but with pressure instead of needles, can be used to similar effect.