By Sayer Ji
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
According to the CDC’s 2020 report on diabetes, 10.5% of U.S. adults are diabetic, and a whopping 34.5% of adults are prediabetic.[i] Combined, that’s more than 122 million Americans who have difficulty maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose.
Of the 34.2 million diagnosed cases in 2020, the CDC noted that 90% to 95% were Type 2 diabetes,[ii] which has the distinction of being manageable through healthy lifestyle modifications and careful monitoring. By shifting away from a sedentary life and processed foods, and moving into regular exercise and organic, whole foods, you will be taking major steps toward managing, and even preventing, diabetes.
Natural Support for Stable Blood Sugar
Beyond diet and exercise, there are safe, natural adjuncts for managing blood glucose levels. We’ve identified seven substances that are validated by science to be among the best drug-free therapies for blood sugar problems. From ensuring that you get adequate amounts of critical vitamins and minerals to strategic calorie restriction, these approaches can elevate your wellness while helping to keep your glucose in-check.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, also called calciferol, is vital for everything from building strong bones and muscles to helping the immune system fight off illness, among other crucial functions. Maintaining adequate vitamin D is essential if you are at risk of diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance,[iii] a key factor that marks the progression from prediabetes to an official Type 2 diagnosis.
A 2019 study reported that vitamin D deficiency was found in 70% of Type 2 diabetic patients, and that individuals with severe vitamin D deficiency were 39 times more likely to have a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.[iv] Studies further show that correcting this deficiency through strategic supplementation results in improved glucose tolerance and beta-cell function, a marker of improved insulin secretion.[v]
Overall glycemic outcomes were measured in two separate meta-analyses published in 2018, one of which reviewed 28 controlled clinical trials involving nearly 4,000 adults who were prediabetic, overweight or obese. Results showed that supplementation with vitamin D significantly improved glycemic measures and insulin sensitivity.[vi]
The other 2018 meta-analysis reviewed 37 studies and found that boosting vitamin D through strategic supplementation led to significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and improved insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetics.[vii] Vitamin D can be a safe part of a preventative strategy and may even help reduce inflammation associated with diabetes.[viii]
Another nutrient that plays a key role in glucose metabolism is magnesium (Mg). Required by the pancreas for insulin production, being deficient in Mg is associated with increased risks for many diseases, including Type 2 diabetes.[ix] Conversely, having a higher dietary intake of magnesium is linked to lower diabetes rates in some studies.[x],[xi]
There is ample evidence showing the inverse association between magnesium intake and risk of developing diabetes. Studies link magnesium deficiency to insulin resistance in overweight prediabetic children,[xii] and intracellular Mg has been shown to play a key role in regulating insulin action.[xiii]
A 2016 meta-analysis found that treatment with magnesium reduced fasting blood glucose concentrations and improved insulin sensitivity in patients with diabetes and prediabetes.[xiv] Other studies show that Mg deficiency can worsen diabetes symptoms,[xv] including diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness.[xvi]
An estimated 61% of the U.S. population is deficient in magnesium,[xvii] creating increased risks for multiple diseases, including Type 2 diabetes. Good food sources of Mg include leafy green vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. Supplemental guidelines vary by age, gender, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and so on, but the general recommended levels are between 270 and 400 milligrams (mg) per day for adults.[xviii]
The importance of maintaining a healthy gut environment is now well-known to science. The link between probiotics and diabetes is less understood, but a growing body of clinical evidence shows that a healthy gut can help protect against diabetes and its effects.
A meta-analysis published in 2019 showed that probiotic supplementation lessened oxidative stress caused by Type 2 diabetes.[xix] Another recent study found that supplementation with a high-quality probiotic was associated with significant improvement in blood sugar and fasting insulin levels in Type 2 diabetic patients.[xx] Further evidence gleaned via meta-analysis of 12 randomized, controlled trials showed that probiotics significantly reduce fasting blood sugar and serum insulin concentrations, as well as lower total cholesterol.[xxi]
While many types of bacteria can be considered probiotic, two strains commonly found in stores are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Look for guaranteed live cultures and consider adding fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi to your daily meal plans.
Remember, habits like smoking, consuming alcohol and eating processed foods create a toxic gut environment where healthy bacterial strains struggle to enculturate. Choosing a whole-food diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and naturally fermented foods will create an ideal gut environment for healthy bacteria to thrive, all while helping to stabilize your blood sugar.
Curcumin, one of the most researched plant polyphenols, has powerful antioxidant properties that contribute to its healing power. It can be a potent ally in disease prevention, including Type 2 diabetes, thanks to its ability to suppress rising blood sugar.
A Japanese study found that curcuminoids, an active agent in turmeric imbuing its bright yellow color, kept blood sugar stable in Type 2 diabetic mice.[xxii] A separate study from the journal Diabetes Care recommended curcumin supplementation as part of a preventative strategy for prediabetics wishing to reverse an impending diagnosis.[xxiii] Other research indicates that curcumin’s potential as a pretreatment for diabetes in at-risk individuals may be due to its ability to regulate and moderate cellular signaling to improve the body’s responses to glucose and insulin.[xxiv]
A definitive 2019 study found via a meta-analysis of clinical and preclinical trials that up to 12 grams per day of curcumin are safe, tolerable and nontoxic, with trials prescribing 250 milligrams per day for up to nine months, to good effect.[xxv] Researchers acknowledged that other studies have shown the beneficial effects of curcumin in Asian prediabetic and Type 2 diabetic populations, where turmeric is heavily used as a dietary spice.[xxvi] So go ahead — spice it up! Your blood sugar will thank you for it.
Berberine is a natural supplement with an impressive resume. Berberine has been clinically shown to help regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels,[xxvii] properties of significant value to diabetic and prediabetic individuals. These benefits will come as no surprise to Chinese herbalists, where berberine has been used to treat diabetes for over 1,400 years.
An alkaloid bioactive compound, berberine is a botanical extract from plants and shrubs in the Berberis family. As a supplement, berberine has been shown to regulate glucose and fat metabolism in both in vitro and in vivo studies.[xxviii] Berberine’s protective effect for diabetes works by increasing insulin expression and antioxidant activity that helps healthy beta cells regenerate, among other beneficial effects.[xxix]
6. Fasting / Caloric Restriction
Intermittent fasting is a term that has been trending, thanks to a growing scientific understanding of the benefits of strategic caloric restriction. Defined loosely as going without food or drink for an extended period and consuming all calories within a limited time span, fasting frees the body’s energy for other important tasks, like mental focus and carrying out detoxification processes.
A typical 16/8 fasting cycle would have you restricting calories for 16 hours each day and consuming normal calories within an eight-hour window. According to Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist Mark Mattson, Ph.D., who has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years, the human body has evolved to go without food for much longer periods of time than most modern people go between meals.[xxx] By giving your digestive processes a break, your body can shift resources to protecting itself against chronic diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers.[xxxi]
Studies on intermittent fasting have shown that caloric restriction improves insulin response in obese men[xxxii] and has beneficial effects on health markers in individuals with Type 2 diabetes.[xxxiii]
7. Exercise / Yoga
Put simply, exercise does a body good. But it doesn’t stop at your body; exercise is clinically shown to improve your mood, sleep and energy, boost self-esteem and reduce stress[xxxiv] — the list of benefits goes on and on. Regular exercise is also beneficial to people with Type 2 diabetes and those who are at risk of becoming diabetic, and it may be a key modality for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
People who engaged in active commuting, defined as cycling or walking to work for all or part of a commute, significantly lowered risk of all-cause mortality and had a 30% reduced risk of developing diabetes.[xxxv] If you can’t cycle to work, taking a brisk, 30-minute walk, five days each week, meets physical activity guidelines for adults and may reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 58%.[xxxvi]
Yoga has thousands of years of history supporting its many virtues, and thanks to modern research, yoga’s documented benefits include supporting healthy blood sugar levels. A 2019 study on yoga as a prediabetic intervention found that blood glucose levels were significantly reduced by practicing yoga.[xxxvii] Other observed benefits of yoga practice were decreased stress levels and no escalation of fatty liver,[xxxviii] a condition often seen in prediabetic individuals.
To learn more ways to control your blood sugar naturally, consult GreenMedInfo.com, the world’s most widely referenced, evidence-based natural medical resource.
[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Diabetes, National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/index.html
[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Diabetes Home, Diabetes Basics, Type 2 Diabetes, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html
[iii] Szymczak-Pajor I, ?liwi?ska A. Analysis of Association between Vitamin D Deficiency and Insulin Resistance. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):794. Published 2019 Apr 6. doi: 10.3390/nu11040794
[iv] Yogita Dhas, Joyita Banerjee, Gauri Damle, Neetu Mishra. Association of vitamin D deficiency with insulin resistance in middle-aged type 2 diabetics. Clin Chim Acta. 2019 Feb 14 ;492:95-101. Epub 2019 Feb 14. PMID: 30772337
[v] S Kumar, M Davies, Y Zakaria, E B Mawer, C Gordon, A O Olukoga, A J Boulton. Improvement in glucose tolerance and beta-cell function in a patient with vitamin D deficiency during treatment with vitamin D. Anticancer Res. 2006 Jan-Feb;26(1A):203-9. PMID: 8029165
[vi] eh Mirhosseini, Hassanali Vatanparast, Mohsen Mazidi, Samantha M Kimball. Vitamin D Supplementation, Glycemic Control, and Insulin Resistance in Prediabetics: A Meta-Analysis. J Endocr Soc. 2018 Jul 1 ;2(7):687-709. Epub 2018 May 25. PMID: 29951596
[vii] Reza Sahebi, Majid Rezayi, Maryam Emadzadeh, Maryam Salehi, Maryam Tayefi, Seyed Mostafa Parizadeh, Negin Behboodi, Azam Rastgar-Moghadam, Jasmin Kharazmi Khorassani, Sara Kharazmi Khorassani, Akbar Mohammadi, Gordon A Ferns, Majid Ghayour Mobarhan. The effects of vitamin D supplementation on indices of glycemic control in Iranian diabetics: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2019 Feb ;34:294-304. Epub 2018 Dec 19. PMID: 30712741
[viii] Cynthia El Hajj, Stéphane Walrand, Mariana Helou, Kaissar Yammine. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Inflammatory Markers in Non-Obese Lebanese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 9 ;12(7). Epub 2020 Jul 9. PMID: 32659891
[ix] Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#magnesium
[x] N Veronese, S F Watutantrige, C Luchini, M Solmi, G Sartore, G Sergi, E Manzato, M Barbagallo, S Maggi, B Stubbs. Effect of magnesium supplementation on glucose metabolism in people with or at risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug 17. Epub 2016 Aug 17. PM ID: 27530471
[xi] Ruy Lopez-Ridaura, MD, Walter C. Willett, MD, Eric B. Rimm, SCD, Simin Liu, MD, Meir J. Stampfer, MD, JoAnn E. Manson, MD and Frank B. Hu, MD. Magnesium Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men and Women. Diabetes Care 2004 Jan; 27(1): 134-140. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.27.1.134
[xii] Milagros G. Huerta, James N. Roemmich, Marit L. Kington, Viktor E. Bovbjerg, Arthur L. Weltman, Viola F. Holmes, James T. Patrie, Alan D. Rogol, Jerry L. Nadler. Magnesium Deficiency Is Associated With Insulin Resistance in Obese Children. Diabetes Care May 2005, 28 (5) 1175-1181; DOI: 10.2337/diacare.28.5.1175
[xiii] Barbagallo M, Dominguez LJ. Magnesium and type 2 diabetes. World J Diabetes. 2015;6(10):1152-1157. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i10.1152
[xiv] N Veronese, S F Watutantrige, C Luchini, M Solmi, G Sartore, G Sergi, E Manzato, M Barbagallo, S Maggi, B Stubbs. Effect of magnesium supplementation on glucose metabolism in people with or at risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug 17. Epub 2016 Aug 17. PMID: 27530471
[xv] Sonny Bherwani, Srushtee Bipin Jibhkate, A S Saumya, Sitendu Kumar Patel, Ritu Singh, L H Ghotekar. Hypomagnesaemia: a modifiable risk factor of diabetic nephropathy. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2016 Jul 14. Epub 2016 Jul 14. PMID: 27416617
[xvi] Pratyush Kumar, Seema Bhargava, Pankaj Kumar Agarwal, Ambuj Garg, Amit Khosla. Association of serum magnesium with type 2 diabetes mellitus and diabetic retinopathy. J Family Med Prim Care. 2019 May ;8(5):1671-1677. PMID: 31198735
[xvii] Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#magnesium
[xviii] Mayo Clinic, Drugs and Supplements, Magnesium Supplement, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/magnesium-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/proper-use/drg-20070730
[xix] Hui Juan Zheng, Jing Guo, Jia Qi, Shan Huang Yi, Wei Jun Huang, Wen Ting Zhang, Fan Zhang, Wei Jing Liu, Yao Xian Wang. The effect of probiotic and synbiotic supplementation on biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in diabetic patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Feb 19. Epub 2019 Feb 19. PMID: 30794924
[xx] Kecheng Yao, Linghai Zeng, Qian He, Wei Wang, Jiao Lei, Xiulan Zou. Effect of Probiotics on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis of 12 Randomized Controlled Trials. Med Sci Monit. 2017 Jun 22 ;23:3044-3053. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28638006
[xxi] Yi-Meng Hu, Feng Zhou, Yin Yuan, Yan-Cheng Xu. Effects of probiotics supplement in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A meta-analysis of randomized trials. Med Clin (Barc). 2017 Apr 21 ;148(8):362-370. Epub 2017 Feb 22. PMID: 28237613
[xxii] Tozo Nishiyama, Tatsumasa Mae, Hideyuki Kishida, Misuzu Tsukagawa, Yoshihiro Mimaki, Minpei Kuroda, Yutaka Sashida, Kazuma Takahashi, Teruo Kawada, Kaku Nakagawa, Mikio Kitahara. Curcuminoids and sesquiterpenoids in turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) suppress an increase in blood glucose level in type 2 diabetic KK-Ay mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Feb 23;53(4):959-63. PMID: 15713005
[xxiii] Somlak Chuengsamarn, Suthee Rattanamongkolgul, Rataya Luechapudiporn, Chada Phisalaphong, Siwanon Jirawatnotai. Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012 Nov ;35(11):2121-7. Epub 2012 Jul 6. PMID: 22773702
[xxiv] George Naijil, T R Anju, S Jayanarayanan, C S Paulose. Curcumin pretreatment mediates antidiabetogenesis via functional regulation of adrenergic receptor subtypes in the pancreas of multiple low-dose streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Nutr Res. 2015 Sep ;35(9):823-33. Epub 2015 Jul 2. PMID: 26255758
[xxv] Pivari F, Mingione A, Brasacchio C, Soldati L. Curcumin and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Prevention and Treatment. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1837. Published 2019 Aug 8. doi:10.3390/nu11081837
[xxvi] Pivari F, Mingione A, Brasacchio C, Soldati L. Curcumin and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Prevention and Treatment. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1837. Published 2019 Aug 8. doi:10.3390/nu11081837
[xxvii] Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cancer Care, Integrative Medicine, Berberine, https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/berberine
[xxviii] Yin J, Xing H, Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008;57(5):712-717. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013
[xxix] Zhou J, Zhou S, Tang J, Zhang K, Guang L, Huang Y, Xu Y, Ying Y, Zhang L, Li D. Protective effect of berberine on beta cells in streptozotocin- and high-carbohydrate/high-fat diet-induced diabetic rats. Eur J Pharmacol. 2009 Mar 15;606(1-3):262-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2008.12.056. Epub 2009 Jan 19. PMID: 19374872
[xxx] Johns Hopkins Medicine, Health, Wellness and Prevention, Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work
[xxxi] Johns Hopkins Medicine, Health, Wellness and Prevention, Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work
[xxxii] J A Archer, P Gorden, J Roth. Defect in insulin binding to receptors in obese man. Amelioration with calorie restriction. J Clin Invest. 1975 Jan;55(1):166-74. PMID: 1109176
[xxxiii] Terra G Arnason, Matthew W Bowen, Kerry D Mansell. Effects of intermittent fasting on health markers in those with type 2 diabetes: A pilot study. World J Diabetes. 2017 Apr 15 ;8(4):154-164. PMID: 28465792
[xxxiv] NHS.uk, Live Well, Exercise, Benefits of exercise, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/
[xxxv] Monica Dinu, Giuditta Pagliai, Claudio Macchi, Francesco Sofi. Active Commuting and Multiple Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2019 Mar ;49(3):437-452. PMID: 30446905
[xxxvi] Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, et al. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(12):e147-e167. doi: 10.2337/dc10-9990
[xxxvii] Amit Kumar Singh, Navneet Kaur, Sushant Kaushal, Rahul Tyagi, Deepali Mathur, Madhava Sai Sivapuram, Kashinath Metri, Sridhar Bammidi, Vivek Podder, Shweta Modgil, Radhika Khosla, Kiran Sharma, Abhilasha Anand, Neeru Malik, VidhyaSagar Boroiah, Raghuram Nagarathna, Hongasandra R Nagendra, Akshay Anand. Partitioning of radiological, stress and biochemical changes in pre-diabetic women subjected to Diabetic Yoga Protocol. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2019 Jul – Aug;13(4):2705-2713. Epub 2019 Jul 9. PMID: 31405697
[xxxviii] Amit Kumar Singh, Navneet Kaur, Sushant Kaushal, Rahul Tyagi, Deepali Mathur, Madhava Sai Sivapuram, Kashinath Metri, Sridhar Bammidi, Vivek Podder, Shweta Modgil, Radhika Khosla, Kiran Sharma, Abhilasha Anand, Neeru Malik, VidhyaSagar Boroiah, Raghuram Nagarathna, Hongasandra R Nagendra, Akshay Anand. Partitioning of radiological, stress and biochemical changes in pre-diabetic women subjected to Diabetic Yoga Protocol. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2019 Jul – Aug;13(4):2705-2713. Epub 2019 Jul 9. PMID: 31405697
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About the author:
Sayer Ji is the founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, and Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.