Herbs and Supplements for Diabetes

Written by Dale Kiefer | Published on September 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on September 9, 2014

Herbs and Supplements for Type 2 Diabetes Treatment

People with diabetes have tried numerous herbs and supplements to improve their diabetes. These alternative treatments supposedly help control blood sugar levels, reduce resistance to insulin, and prevent diabetes-related complications.

Some supplements have shown promise in animal studies. However, there is currently only limited evidence that they have the above mentioned benefits in humans.

Using Supplements for Diabetes Treatment

Supplements should not be used to replace standard diabetes treatment. Doing so can put your health at risk.

It is important to talk to your doctor before using any supplements. Some of these products can interfere with other treatments. Just because a product is natural does not mean it is safe to use.

A number of supplements have shown promise as diabetes treatments.

Cinnamon

Research suggests that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugar. A 2011 study found that it has the potential to significantly decrease fasting blood glucose. However, other studies have found no evidence of this effect.

Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace element. It is used in the metabolism of carbohydrates.

However, research on the use of chromium for diabetes treatment is mixed. Low doses are safe for most people, but there is a risk that chromium could make blood sugar go too low. High doses also have the potential to cause kidney damage.

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 is also known as thiamine. Many people with diabetes are thiamine deficient. This may contribute to some diabetes complications. Low thiamine has been linked to heart disease and blood vessel damage.

Thiamine is water-soluble. It has difficulty getting into the cells where it’s needed. However, benfotiamine, a supplemental form of thiamine, is lipid-soluble. It more easily penetrates cell membranes. Some research suggests that benfotiamine can prevent diabetic complications. However, other studies have not shown any positive effects.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant. Some studies suggest it may:

  • reduce oxidative stress
  • lower fasting blood sugar levels
  • decrease insulin resistance

However, more research is needed. Furthermore, ALA needs to be taken with caution, as it has the potential to lower blood sugar levels to dangerous levels.

Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. It has shown some promise as a diabetes treatment in animal and lab studies.

There is limited human data on bitter melon. A recent trial compared its effects to those of metformin. In the trial, bitter melon had a modest effect on blood sugar. However, it was not as effective as metformin. Metformin is the standard drug used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Green Tea

Green tea contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants.

The main antioxidant in green tea is known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Laboratory studies have suggested that EGCG may have numerous health benefits including:

  • lower cardiovascular disease risk
  • improved glucose control
  • better insulin activity

Studies on diabetic patients have not shown health benefits. However, green tea is generally considered safe.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a chemical found in wine and grapes. In animal models, it helps prevent high blood sugar. Animal studies have also shown that it can reduce oxidative stress. However, human data is limited. It is too soon to know if supplementation helps with diabetes. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential nutrient. It helps regulate blood pressure. It also regulates insulin sensitivity. Supplemental magnesium may improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics.

A high magnesium diet may also reduce the risk of diabetes. Researchers have found a link between higher magnesium intake, lower rates of insulin resistance, and diabetes. 

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