Natural supplements to help normalize your glucose metabolism
By Dr. Mary James, ND
Women struggling with insulin resistance and prediabetes are nearly always told that regular exercise and a healthy diet — and, of course, weight loss — are the solution. Which is absolutely true!
But this isn’t news to most of us anymore, and it can be frustrating when you’re working hard to make these important lifestyle changes but are then told to do something you’re already doing (especially if you’re not yet seeing any results from your efforts).
What you may not know is that there are herbals, vitamins and minerals that research shows can help stabilize glucose metabolism and which may give you the extra edge you need, alongside those lifestyle changes.
Top 3 herbs for improving blood glucose
1. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a traditional medicine for diabetes and high blood sugar. Studies suggest that it can enhance insulin sensitivity as well as help regenerate the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas —key benefits when a person is both insulin resistant and experiencing a decrease in pancreatic function as a result of excessive insulin output. While it’s not something readily available in most parts of the U.S., it can be found in supplement form.
Cinnamon has the power to curb the rise in blood sugar after you eat and to lower blood sugar levels that are already too high. It does this by helping your cells more efficiently take in glucose and by increasing insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon has the added benefits of being anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Unfortunately, when most of us ingest cinnamon, it tends to be paired with sugar — which is self-defeating when it comes to glucose control! A better way to get cinnamon’s health effects is to infuse it as a tea or take it in capsule form.
Like bitter melon, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum greacum) is a traditional Asian diabetes remedy that helps reduce blood glucose levels by improving insulin sensitivity and supporting the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Unlike bitter melon, fenugreek seeds are widely available in the spice section of most grocery stores.
According to one small study, a daily infusion of 10 g of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water had no immediate effect. But cumulatively, by the fifth month of the study, it had produced a significant lowering of blood glucose levels. Randomized, clinical trials have verified fenugreek’s beneficial effects on blood glucose as well.
Top 3 vitamins for improving blood glucose
1. Vitamin D
For women concerned about insulin resistance, getting enough vitamin D is a must. Vitamin D concentrations are directly correlated with insulin sensitivity and pancreatic function. Unfortunately, drinking fortified milk or orange juice isn’t going to do the job. Consider supplementing with 2-4000 IU daily (and periodically checking levels through your doctor), particularly if you live in the northern half of the U.S., are indoors most of the time, or always use sunscreen outdoors.
2. Vitamin K
It’s well known that vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, and its role in bone health is increasingly recognized. But it also plays an important, if little-known, role in maintaining insulin sensitivity.
While one of its key forms (K1) is available in leafy greens, the other (K2) is most often found in fermented foods, which aren’t commonly part of the usual American diet. It is the vitamin K2 form that supports insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta-cell function. If you’re not a fan of kimchee or sauerkraut, you may consider taking a supplement that provides mg (not mcg) amounts of vitamin K2.
3. B vitamins
While all B vitamins participate in a wide range of body functions, three in particular — thiamine (B1), biotin (B7) and cobalamin (B12) — are essential for healthy glucose metabolism.
Vitamin B1 has a vital role in glucose metabolism within the cells, and it also helps prevent complications from high blood glucose levels. Deficiencies in B vitamins, in particular vitamin B7, can impair the ability of the body to produce and respond to insulin. And, insulin resistance has been linked to decreased B12 levels, which in turn can contribute to some of the fatigue and cardiovascular complications of poor blood glucose control.
Since all of the B vitamins should ideally be taken together, find a high-quality B-complex supplement that also contains healthy amounts of these three B vitamins.
Top 3 minerals for improving blood glucose
Chromium’s role in glucose and lipid metabolism has been known for a long time, and many studies have looked at its ability to help stabilize blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. But results from those studies have been mixed, and it’s not clear what dosage of chromium is ideal for producing benefits — one study found that a dose of just 42 micrograms was effective in lowering blood glucose, while other studies have focused on doses of 200-250 micrograms. Long-term benefits are also not yet clear enough. More research will help!
Magnesium plays an important role in glucose and insulin regulation. There’s a well-documented correlation between low magnesium levels in the body and impaired glucose tolerance, such as occurs in metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Supplementing with magnesium was found in one research study to delay progression from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes and to reduce overall fasting glucose and insulin levels, both of which are critical risk indicators in prediabetes.
Zinc plays a key role in insulin’s actions and the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates. It also supports insulin sensitivity. It’s thus not surprising that women with diabetes have been found to have lower levels of zinc. Although research studies are mixed in terms of supplemental zinc’s effects on insulin levels, most studies appear to agree that zinc supplementation helps lower blood glucose and HbA1C. Think of zinc as “the little engine that could,” gently pushing your blood sugar toward stability.
Since long-term zinc supplementation can alter levels of minerals such as copper, the safest way to take zinc is along with a multi-mineral supplement.
Small changes can have big effects
We know that managing your blood glucose can be tough, especially when prediabetes has been developing for a while! Changing your diet and exercise habits, while powerful, doesn’t usually happen overnight. If you’re doing your best and still struggle with insulin resistance or high blood sugar levels, just remember: there are some very small adjustments, in the form of adding herbs, vitamins and minerals, that may make a big difference for you.
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