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Natural Remedies for Diabetes

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Updated June 25, 2014

Young woman holding ginseng, mid section (focus on ginseng)
Trinette Reed/Digital Vision/Getty Images

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 21 million people in the United States have diabetes, with about 90 to 95% having type 2 diabetes. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the main source of fuel for body cells. The hormone insulin allows glucose in blood to enter cells. In type 2 diabetes, either the body doesn't produce enough insulin or cells are resistant to effects of insulin.

As a result, glucose builds up in the blood instead of entering cells, which causes cells to be deprived of energy. If high glucose levels in the blood persist, it may damage the eyes, heart, kidneys, or nerves.

Natural Remedies for Diabetes

There are some natural treatments that are being explored for type 2 diabetes.

1) Ginseng

Although there are several different types of ginseng, most of the promising studies on ginseng and diabetes have used North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Those studies have shown that North American ginseng may improve blood sugar control and glycosylated hemogobin (a form of hemoglobin in the blood used to monitor blood glucose levels over time) levels.

2) Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism and helps body cells properly respond to insulin. In fact, studies have found low levels of chromium in people with diabetes.

There are many promising studies suggesting chromium supplementation may be effective, but they are far from conclusive. For example, a small study published in the journal Diabetes Care compared the diabetes medication sulfonylurea taken with 1,000 mcg of chromium to sulfonylurea taken with a placebo. After 6 months, people who did not take chromium had a significant increase in body weight, body fat, and abdominal fat, whereas people taking the chromium had significant improvements in insulin sensitivity.

Another study published in the same journal, however, examined the effect of chromium on glycemic control in insulin-dependent people with type 2 diabetes. People were given either 500 or 1,000 mcg a day of chromium or a placebo for six months. There was no significant difference in glycosylated hemoglobin, body mass index, blood pressure, or insulin requirements across the three groups.

3) Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and in nutritional supplements. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and for bone health.

Some studies suggest that low magnesium levels may worsen blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence that magnesium supplementation may help with insulin resistance. For example, a study examined the effect of magnesium or placebo in 63 people with type 2 diabetes and low magnesium levels who were taking the medication glibenclamide. After 16 weeks, people who took magnesium had improved insulin sensitivty and lower fasting glucose levels.

High doses of magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and confusion. It can interact with certain medications, such as those for osteoporosis, high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers), as well as some antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and diuretics.

4) Cinnamon

A couple of studies have found that cinnamon improves blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. In the first study, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were divided into six groups. Three groups took 1, 3 or 6 g of cinnamon a day and the remaining three groups consumed 1, 3 or 6 g of placebo capsules. After 40 days, all three doses of cinnamon significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.

In another study, 79 people with type 2 diabetes (not on insulin therapy but treated with other diabetes medication or diet) took either a cinnamon extract (equivalent to 3 g of cinnamon powder) or a placebo capsule three times a day.

After four months, there was a slight but statistically significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels in people who took the cinnamon (10.3%) compared with the placebo group (3.4%), however, there was no significant difference in glycosylated hemoglobin or lipid profiles.

For more about cinnamon, read Cinnamon and Blood Sugar and Cinnamon For Diabetes?

5) Zinc

The mineral zinc plays an important role in the production and storage of insulin. There is some research showing that people with type 2 diabetes have suboptimal zinc status due to decreased absorption and increased excretion of zinc.

Food sources of zinc include fresh oysters, ginger root, lamb, pecans, split peas, egg yolk, rye, beef liver, lima beans, almonds, walnuts, sardines, chicken, and buckwheat.

6) Aloe Vera

Although aloe vera gel is better known as a home remedy for minor burns and other skin conditions, recent animal studies suggest that aloe vera gel may help people with diabetes.

A Japanese study evaluated the effect of aloe vera gel on blood sugar. Researchers isolated a number of active phytosterol compounds from the gel that were found to reduce blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin levels. For more information about aloe vera, read the Aloe Vera: What You Need to Know

More diabetes natural treatments on the next page...
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  6. Natural Remedies for Diabetes - Can They Help?

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