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 lead to complications if not managed properly. (1)
Some herbs and spices found in nature may help balance lower blood sugar levels, making them beneficial to individuals diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. What’s more, evidence also suggests that certain herbs help protect against acute and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and certain respiratory conditions. (11) Continue reading to learn more about these 6 herbs to lower blood sugar levels.
6 Herbs to lower blood sugar levels
Let’s take a look at some of the best herbs and spices for blood sugar control.
Fenugreek seeds are high in soluble fiber, which helps with lowering blood sugar levels by slowing down digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates. (24) For this reason, it has been suggested that these seeds may be effective in managing 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 g of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water every day for six months had a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c levels—the average level of blood sugar over the previous two to three months. (23)
In another study, researchers found that individuals with type 1 diabetes receiving 100 g of defatted fenugreek seed powder for ten days had significant reductions in fasting blood sugar levels and improved glucose tolerance tests. Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides were also significantly reduced. (27)
While the exact action is not known and multiple mechanisms may be involved, gymnema contains substances that decrease the absorption of sugar from the intestine. (21) Gymnema may also increase the amount of insulin in the body and the growth of cells in the pancreas, the organ responsible for the production of insulin. (25)(29) Insulin helps control blood sugar levels by signaling to the liver, muscles, and fat cells to take in sugar from the blood. (18)
In a study of patients with type 1 diabetes taking 400 mg per day of a water-soluble extract of gymnema, insulin requirements decreased as well as patients’ fasting blood sugar levels. HbA1c levels were also reduced. (26)
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 lowering blood sugar effects. (12)
Cinnamon is commonly known for its culinary applications, but research also highlights its potential therapeutic effects. Research suggests that cinnamon can help to improve blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
A study from China found that supplementation with 500 mg of water-extract of cinnamon for two months reduced fasting insulin, glucose, total cholesterol, and LDL levels and enhanced insulin sensitivity in men and women with elevated blood sugar levels. (3)
Another study conducted in individuals with type 2 diabetes found that intake of 1 g, 3 g, or 6 g of cinnamon per day reduces fasting glucose levels, triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol. The 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. (13)
Additionally, in a study of healthy subjects without a history of gastrointestinal disease, abdominal surgery or diabetes, intake of 6 g of cinnamon slows stomach emptying and significantly reduces high blood sugar after meals. (9)
Ginseng extract from Korean red ginseng, American ginseng, and other sources 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 increase energy, relieve stress, and bring the body into balance. More recently, it has been studied for its ability to control blood sugar. (17)(20)
A 2016 meta-analysis of eight 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 as a result of ginseng intake. (8)
Another meta-analysis found that ginseng modestly yet significantly improved fasting blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes. (28)
Turmeric is a spice that is common in Asian foods and curries, and it helps to give food its yellowish color. It also has many medicinal properties. Research suggests that turmeric may decrease fasting blood sugar levels, particularly when used in combination with metformin. (15)
Turmeric’s primary active component is curcumin and it is believed that curcumin is responsible for many of the spice’s proposed benefits, including blood sugar control. One study involving 60 patients with diabetes demonstrated that when combined with metformin, turmeric decreased fasting blood sugar levels. (15)
A study of 240 people in Thailand found that curcumin may help prevent prediabetes from progressing to diabetes. About 16% of people in the placebo group (inactive treatment) progressed to type 2 diabetes, while nobody receiving 250 mg 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. (5)
Another study showed that individuals with type 2 diabetes who received 500 mg curcumin capsules three times a day for ten weeks had lower fasting blood sugar levels, suggesting that the body is better able to reduce blood sugar levels between meals. (10)
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 with lowering blood sugar levels by:
- Improving beta cell functioning of the pancreas
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing insulin resistance
- 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 (5)(7)
6. Green tea
Green tea leaves come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. (14) According to a meta-analysis, consumption of green tea is associated with decreased fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels and reduced fasting insulin levels. Each of these are measurements of blood sugar health and, therefore, indicative of diabetes. (14)
Did you know? An American study from 2002 found that the addition of milk to tea decreased the insulin-sensitizing effects of tea. (2)
Additionally, it has been found that green tea contains many natural compounds, including the antioxidant catechin, which helps to control the sharp increase in blood sugar experienced after a meal containing rapidly digested carbohydrates such as corn flakes, candy, white bread, and white rice. (16)
The bottom line
To best manage your blood sugar levels, it’s important to follow healthy lifestyle behaviors including consuming a diet rich in fiber, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, (4) engaging in regular exercise, and keeping stress levels in check. (6)(19)
There are many herbs (and spices) 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. (22)
Before using any herbs or spices for lowering blood sugar levels, particularly in supplement form, consult your health care practitioner to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for your individual health needs.
- American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Diabetes complications. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications
- Anderson, R. A., & Polansky, M. M. (2002). Tea enhances insulin activity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(24), 7182–7186.
- Anderson, R. A., Zhan, Z., Luo, R., Guo, X., Guo, Q., Zhou, J., Kong, J., Davis, P. A., & Stoecker, B. J. (2016). Cinnamon extract lowers glucose, insulin and cholesterol in people with elevated serum glucose. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 6(4), 332–336.
- Asif, M. (2014). The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 3(1), 1.
- Chuengsamarn, S., Rattanamongkolgul, S., Luechapudiporn, R., Phisalaphong, C., & Jirawatnotai, S. (2012). Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 35(11), 2121–2127.
- Dias, J. P., Joseph, J. J., Kluwe, B., Zhao, S., Shardell, M., & Seeman, T. (2020). The longitudinal association of changes in diurnal cortisol features with fasting glucose: MESA. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 119, 104698.
- Ghorbani, Z., Hekmatdoost, A., & Mirmiran, P. (2014). Anti-Hyperglycemic and insulin sensitizer effects of turmeric and its principle constituent curcumin. International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 12(4), e18081.
- Gui, Q. F., Xu, Z. R., Xu, K. Y., & Yang, Y. M. (2016). The efficacy of Ginseng-Related therapies in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Medicine, 95(6), e2584.
- Hlebowicz, J., Darwiche, G., Björgell, O., & Almér, L. O. (2007). Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(6), 1552–1556.
- Hodaei, H., Adibian, M., Nikpayam, O., Hedayati, M., & Sohrab, G. (2019). The effect of curcumin supplementation on anthropometric indices, insulin resistance and oxidative stress in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 11(1), 41.
- Jiang, T. A. (2019). Health benefits of culinary herbs and spices. Journal of AOAC International, 102(2), 395–411.
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- Khan, A., Safdar, M., Ali Khan, M. M., Khattak, K. N., & Anderson, R. A. (2003). Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 26(12), 3215–3218.
- Liu, K., Zhou, R., Wang, B., Chen, K., Shi, L. Y., Zhu, J. D., & Mi, M. T. (2013). Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: A meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(2), 340–348.
- Maithili Karpaga Selvi, N., Sridhar, M. G., Swaminathan, R. P., & Sripradha, R. (2014). Efficacy of turmeric as adjuvant therapy in type 2 diabetic patients. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 30(2), 180–186.
- Matsui, T., Tanaka, T., Tamura, S., Toshima, A., Tamaya, K., Miyata, Y., Tanaka, K., & Matsumoto, K. (2006). α-glucosidase inhibitory profile of catechins and theaflavins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(1), 99–105.
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- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2018). Diabetes and dietary supplements. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/diabetes-and-dietary-supplements
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