Scientific research and the experience of doctors and other health professionals show that supplements and superfoods can be even more effective than drugs when it comes to preventing and treating diabetes. we reviewed thousands of scientific studies and talked to more than 60 health professionals about these glucose-controlling natural remedies. One is magnesium. Studies show that magnesium significantly reduces the risk for diabetes. (For more on the power of magnesium, see the January 15, 2014 issue of Bottom Line/Personal or go to BottomLinePublications.com/magnesium.)
Here are three more standout natural remedies…
Caution: If you are taking insulin or other medications to control diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking any supplement or changing your diet.
Gymnema has been the standard anti-diabetes recommendation for the past 2,000 years from practitioners of Ayurveda, the ancient system of natural healing from India. Derived from a vinelike plant found in the tropical forests of southern and central India, the herb also is called gurmar, or “sugar destroyer”—if you chew on the leaf of the plant, you temporarily will lose your ability to taste sweets.
Modern science has figured out the molecular interactions underlying this strange phenomenon. The gymnemic acids in the herb have a structure similar to glucose molecules, filling up glucose receptor sites on the taste buds. They also fill up sugar receptors in the intestine, blocking the absorption of glucose. And gymnemic acids stimulate (and even may regenerate) the cells of the pancreas that manufacture insulin, the hormone that ushers glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells.
Standout research: Studies published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that three months of using a unique gymnema extract, formulated over several decades by two Indian scientists, reduced fasting blood glucose (a blood sample is taken after an overnight fast) by 23% in people with type 2 diabetes (defined as fasting blood sugar levels of 126 mg/dL or higher). People with prediabetes (defined as those with blood sugar levels of 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL) had a 30% reduction.
Important: The newest (and more powerful) version of this extract is called ProBeta, which is available at PharmaTerra.com. A naturopathic physician who uses ProBeta with his patients told me that the supplement can lower fasting glucose in the 200s down to the 120s or 130s after five to six months of use.
Typical daily dose: ProBeta—two capsules, two to three times a day. Other types of gymnema—400 milligrams (mg), three times a day.
Apple cider vinegar
Numerous studies have proved that apple cider vinegar works to control type 2 diabetes. Several of the studies were conducted by Carol Johnston, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition at Arizona State University.
Standout scientific research: Dr. Johnston’s studies showed that an intake of apple cider vinegar with a meal lowered insulin resistance (the inability of cells to use insulin) by an average of 64% in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes…improved insulin sensitivity (the ability of cells to use insulin) by up to 34%…and lowered postmeal spikes in blood sugar by an average of 20%. Research conducted in Greece, Sweden, Japan and the Middle East has confirmed many of Dr. Johnston’s findings.
How it works: The acetic acid in vinegar—the compound that gives vinegar its tart flavor and pungent odor—blunts the activity of disaccharidase enzymes that help break down the type of carbohydrates found in starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, bread and pasta. As a result, those foods are digested and absorbed more slowly, lowering blood glucose and insulin levels.
Suggested daily intake: Two tablespoons right before or early in the meal. (More is not more effective.)
If you’re using vinegar in a salad dressing, the ideal ratio for blood sugar control is two tablespoons of vinegar to one tablespoon of oil. Eat the salad early in the meal so that it disrupts the carb-digesting enzymes before they get a chance to work. Or dip premeal whole-grain bread in a vinaigrette dressing.
A new 10-year study published in Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that the mortality rate for people with diabetes and kidney disease was more than 31%. Statistically, that makes kidney disease the number-one risk factor for death in people with diabetes.
Fortunately, researchers have found that there is a simple way to counter kidney disease in diabetes—eat more soy foods.
Standout scientific research: Dozens of scientific studies show that soy is a nutritional ally for diabetes patients with kidney disease. But the best and most recent of these studies, published in Diabetes Care, shows that eating lots of soy can help reverse signs of kidney disease, reduce risk factors for heart disease—and reduce blood sugar, too.
The study involved 41 diabetes patients with kidney disease, divided into two groups. One group ate a diet with protein from 70% animal and 30% vegetable sources. The other group ate a diet with protein from 35% animal sources, 35% textured soy protein and 30% vegetable proteins. After four years, those eating the soy-rich diet had lower levels of several biomarkers for kidney disease. (In another, smaller experiment, the same researchers found that soy improved biomarkers for kidney disease in just seven weeks.) In fact, the health of the participants’ kidneys actually improved, a finding that surprised the researchers, since diabetic nephropathy (diabetes-caused kidney disease) is considered to be a progressive, irreversible disease.
Those eating soy also had lower fasting blood sugar, lower LDL cholesterol, lower total cholesterol, lower triglycerides and lower C-reactive protein, a biomarker for chronic inflammation.
How it works: Substituting soy for animal protein may ease stress on the delicate filters of the kidneys. Soy itself also stops the overproduction of cells in the kidney that clog the filters…boosts the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow in the kidneys…and normalizes the movement of minerals within the kidneys, thus improving filtration.
Suggested daily intake: The diabetes patients in the study ate 16 grams of soy protein daily. Examples: Four ounces of tofu provide 13 grams of soy protein…one soy burger, 13 grams…one-quarter cup of soy nuts, 11 grams…one-half cup of shelled edamame (edible soybeans in the pod), 11 grams…one cup of soy milk, 6 grams.
What’s Wrong with Diabetes Drugs?
Doctors typically try to control high blood sugar with a glucose-lowering medication such as metformin (Glucophage), a drug most experts consider safe. But other diabetes drugs may not be safe.
Example #1: Recent studies show that sitagliptin (Januvia) and exenatide (Byetta) double the risk for hospitalization for pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas) and triple the risk for pancreatic cancer.
Example #2:Pioglitazone (Actos) can triple the risk for eye problems and vision loss, double the risk for bone fractures in women and double the risk for bladder cancer.