Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is essential for the body’s overall health. Unstable blood sugar levels can affect the body’s ability to function normally and can even lead to complications if not managed properly. (1)
Some herbs found in nature help to balance blood sugar levels, making them invaluable to individuals diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. What’s more, there is now ample evidence to show herbs help protect against acute and chronic diseases. (2) Herbs also enhance the flavor, aroma, and color of food and beverages.
Herbs for blood sugar
Let’s take a look at some of the best natural herbs (and spices — to give you a more comprehensive list) for blood sugar control.
Fenugreek seeds are high in soluble fiber, which helps to lower blood sugar levels by slowing down digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates. For this reason, it has been suggested that these seeds may be effective in treating people with diabetes.
Several clinical trials have shown that fenugreek seeds can improve metabolic symptoms associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels.
In one study, researchers in India found that patients with type 2 diabetes receiving 10 grams of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water every day for 6 months had a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels and significant reductions in HbA1c — the average level of blood sugar over the previous 2-3 months. (3)
In another study, researchers found that individuals with type 1 diabetes receiving 100g of defatted fenugreek seed powder for 10 days had significant reductions in fasting blood sugar levels and improved glucose tolerance test. Total cholesterol, LDL (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides were also significantly reduced. (4)
Gymnema contains substances that decrease the absorption of sugar from the intestine, the exact action not known. It could involve one or more mechanisms. (5)
Gymnema may also increase the amount of insulin in the body and increase the growth of cells in the pancreas, which is the place in the body where insulin is made. (6)(7) Insulin helps control blood sugar levels by signaling to the liver and muscle and fat cells to take in sugar from the blood.
In a study of patients with type 1 diabetes taking 400mg per day of a water-soluble extract of Gymnema, insulin requirements came down as well as patients’ fasting blood sugar levels. HbA1c levels also came down. (8)
Gymnema leaf extract, the ‘Guarmin’ peptide, in particular, has been found to interfere with the ability of the taste buds on the tongue to taste sweet and bitter. It is thought that by inhibiting the sweet taste sensation, people taking it will limit their intake of sweet foods, and this may be partially responsible for its blood sugar-lowering effects. (5)
Cinnamon is often used in cooking and baking, but it’s increasingly being linked to improvements in conditions such as diabetes.
Research suggests that cinnamon can help to improve blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
A study out of China found that supplementation with 500 mg of water-extract of cinnamon for two months reduced fasting insulin, glucose, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol and enhanced insulin sensitivity of men and women with elevated blood sugar levels. (9)
Another study done in individuals with type 2 diabetes found that intake of 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day reduces fasting glucose levels, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. Authors suggest that the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will help to reduce the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. (10)
Additionally, in a study of healthy subjects without a history of gastrointestinal disease, abdominal surgery or diabetes, intake of 6g of cinnamon slows stomach emptying and significantly reduces high blood sugar after meals. (11)
Ginseng is one of the most well-known and widely used herbal medicines in the world. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Eastern medicine to boost energy, relieve stress, and bring the body into balance. More recently though, it’s been studied as a therapy to help control blood sugar. (12)
A 2016 meta-analysis of 8 studies found that the benefits of using ginseng as part of a treatment program for individuals with type 2 diabetes included improved fasting blood sugar levels and improved insulin resistance. The study also found improvements in triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol as a result of using ginseng. (13)
Another meta-analysis found that ginseng modestly yet significantly improved fasting blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes. (14)
Turmeric is a spice that is common in Asian foods and curries, and it helps to give food its yellowish color. It’s also loaded with medicinal properties.
Turmeric’s active component is curcumin and it is believed that curcumin is responsible for many of the spice’s proposed benefits, including blood sugar control.
In a study of 240 people in Thailand, curcumin prevented prediabetes from progressing to diabetes. About 16% of people on the placebo (inactive treatment) progressed to type 2 diabetes, while nobody receiving 250 milligrams daily of curcumin from supplements progressed. Individuals receiving curcumin appeared to have better functioning beta cells – the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels in the body. (15)
Another study showed that individuals with type 2 diabetes who received 500 milligrams curcumin capsules 3 times a day for 10 weeks had lower fasting blood sugar levels, suggesting that the body is better able to lower blood sugar levels between meals. (16)
A review paper examining studies published from 1998 to 2013 found that curcumin attenuates many of the pathophysiological processes involved in the development and progression of high blood sugar and insulin resistance. The study suggests that curcumin helps to lower blood sugar levels by: (17)
- Reducing the amount of glucose (or sugar) produced by the liver
- Stimulating cells in the body to take in more glucose
- Stimulating the pancreas to secrete more insulin
- Improving beta cell functioning of the pancreas
- Reducing insulin resistance
According to a meta-analysis, consumption of green tea is associated with decreased fasting blood sugar levels, decreased HbA1c levels as well as reduced fasting insulin levels. All of these are measurements of blood sugar health, and therefore indicative of diabetes. (19)
An American study from 2002, however, found that the addition of milk to tea decreased the insulin-sensitizing effects of tea. (20)
Additionally, it has been found that green tea contains many natural products, including the antioxidant catechin, which helps to control the sharp increase in blood sugar after a meal containing rapidly digesting carbohydrates such as corn flakes, candy, white bread, and white rice. (21)
The bottom line
To best manage your blood sugar levels it’s important to follow healthy lifestyle behaviors including a diet rich in fiber and vegetables, regular exercise, and keeping stress levels in check.
There are many herbs (and spices) and that help to control blood sugar, however, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these natural compounds are not medically approved for blood sugar management.
Before using any herbs or spices to lower your blood sugar levels, consult your health care practitioner to ensure that it is safe. There is a risk that your blood sugars go too low, especially when taken alongside prescribed diabetes drugs.
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