Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Can herbs and spices replace some or all diabetes medicines? For some people they can, but you have to be really careful with these and any other alternative treatments. Here are some herbal approaches to managing diabetes and some things to consider if you want to try them.

Last fall, Amy Campbell wrote eight blog entries about different herbs and spices and their health benefits. Definitely check these pieces out. But there are many other herbs used around the world to treat and prevent diabetes. Almost all categories of diabetes drug have herbal analogs.

Any discussion of herbs for diabetes has to start with cinnamon. Cinnamon is thought to possibly act as an insulin sensitizer, like metformin (brand name Glucophage and others) and the thiazolidinedione drugs (such as Actos). A Pakistani study of 60 adults with Type 2 in Diabetes Care showed an average glucose level drop of 18% to 29% in those who took cinnamon, and better cholesterol levels compared to placebo (inactive treatment). Even though there is generally no money to study herbs, people started to get excited and some small follow-up studies were done.

One, also published in Diabetes Care, was done in Oklahoma City. Forty-three adults with Type 2 were split into two groups, and no significant differences were found between cinnamon and placebo groups.

That’s why studies can be so confusing. A lot depends on who is being studied. Quite probably, the Pakistani subjects may have been more sensitive to cinnamon, or had different diets, or some other difference from the Americans.

Over the next few years, other cinnamon studies were reported; some indicating significant benefits, some not. But if you look at the comments section of this Diabetes Self-Management blog entry, you can see that many readers have found cinnamon extremely valuable in lowering their blood glucose.

An Herbal Carbohydrate Blocker
A variety of other herbs and foods are used around the world to lower blood glucose. Diabetes in Control reported that “extract of Salacia oblonga lowers acute glycemia and insulinemia in persons with type 2 diabetes after a high-carbohydrate meal,” according to a study The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The plant Salacia oblonga appears to work like the alpha-glucosidase inhibitors such as Precose (acarbose). It keeps carbohydrate from breaking down in the intestines so that they absorb into the system more slowly. So postmeal glucose spikes can be prevented or lowered.

Other plants lower blood glucose in other ways. Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a kind of herb that grows in India. It is also called “Tulsi” or “The Incomparable One.” It seems to work by reducing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. In one study of 40 people with Type 2, fasting blood glucose was lowered from an average of 134.5 to 99.7 after four weeks of taking Holy Basil, according to pharmacist and certified diabetes educator (CDE) Laura Shane-McWhorter.

Some plants have insulin-like properties. Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa), a plant native to Southeast Asia, may be an insulin sensitizer. And a factor called “polypeptide-P,” which seems to mimic the action of insulin, is found in bitter melon (Momordica charantia).

Bitter melon is a tropical vegetable grown in different varieties in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. Bitter melon also seems to prevent weight gain by blocking fat cell growth. It’s definitely bitter, though. You might want to take it as a capsule instead of trying to eat or drink it. It’s very interesting how bitter and sour-tasting things (for example, vinegar) can often help glucose and fat metabolism.

Plusses and Minuses of Herbs
A big problem with herbs is knowing what dose you are getting. The same herb can be stronger or weaker depending on where and at what time of year it grew. It may also be hard to know if you are getting the real thing. If you’re buying herbal medicine, do some research and find reputable dealers. Here’s a possibly useful shopping guide.

Just like drugs, herbs can have side effects. Drugs and herbs may also have harmful interactions, just as drugs do with each other.

So you have to be careful. If you’re planning to try an herbal approach to managing your diabetes, you’ll have to monitor your blood glucose more closely, at least at first, and watch for side effects. You should definitely discuss your plans with your doctor and your pharmacist; the herbs you are considering taking may not be safe for you, or your drug doses may have to be lowered.

But in general, herbs are cheaper and often (not always) safer than prescription drugs. Whether they are effective for you, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Please let our readers know. Have you had experience with herbal approaches to diabetes? How have they worked for you? What do you recommend, and what should we avoid?

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Comments
  1. I use Gymnema Sylvestre as a supplement once a day after my evening meal. It works.

    Posted by W. N. Laughridge |
  2. Sorry new studies have come out saying many herbal meds contaminated with other ingredients and so not tested for safety as they are not medicines but food. So I find they are expensive can intereact with prescription meds I am taking. If these meds worked would find less Diabetics with complications, but that is not what is happening. Prescription DRUGS have to be tested for strength purity and some like Avandia side effects show up after use and relabeling done. You have to be careful following studies done in other countries to see if they are scientific with those given drugs, not giving drugs and seeing what happens, these are expensive and herbals do not go through these studies and so until they do and can Prove they help more than the Prescribed meds used for Diabetes control it is Buyer be Ware, it is your health that could be hurt, and there is no quick cure for Diabetes.

    Posted by Janice s |
  3. I have tried cinnamon powder for a few month;about a coffee-spoonful a day.It did not do anything for
    my b.g.level.
    I also tried bitter melon,did not help either.

    Posted by Ludovico Horvath |
  4. I’m 66 and have had type 2 diabetes for 15 years I’m on an Avandament (2 years since the metforman part was added). For about 14 years ago I shave been using Chromiun Piccinolate 500 mcg twice a day. Last December I saw an internet article that made me wonder if it was safe while my doctor had always said he had no problem with my use of the moneral he wouldn’t endorse it either. At the time I stopped using it my HB1ac was 6.4 after 3 months the start of March it 6.7 so I resumed it and by June it was 6.4 again. My experience has led me to belive it does work i have never had any bad effects from it as far as I know

    Posted by Rodger Chinery |
  5. Cinnamon, Holy Basil, Gymnema, Cool Cayenne, and BioSuperFood2, and counting carbs have helped me go from 163 lbs to 153 lbs in two weeks, and lower my 7 day average blood glucose from well over 320 down to 206 which is still high, but getting better. I truly think that the carbs counting has done more for me than the supplements, but they do make me feel better.

    Posted by Steve Martinez |
  6. I have to say that with me I have noticed a regulating effect while taking cinnimon. I take 2 capsules a day with my morning meal and it seems to keep my sugar levels from spiking like they used to. I have type 2 and also take oral meds.

    Posted by Patti |
  7. My sister intruduced me to Alpha Lypoic Acid, I first took the 200 mg and found I could not stay far from the bathroom, but dropped down to 100mgs and in a few weeks my sugar levels went down. I do take my Metformin with it, together they work great. Before I started Lypoic acid my blood suger would shoot to 300 or more, now, if I’m really bad with my diet, it might reach 200. The cost- 5.00 at WalMart for 60 ,it lasts me 2 months.

    Posted by Mildred |
  8. I strongly believe natural solutions such as hers, vitamins, diet and exercise are a far better solution to Diabetes than prescription drugs. As you say they are often safer than drugs however, you do have to know what you’re doing. Herbs can be very powerful and have their own side effects.

    However the side offects of prescription drugs can be extreme. I am working on a book to help explain all the Adverse Events that have been reported to the FDA regarding various drugs. If you wouldn’t mind I would love it if you would fill out a survey I have about the book. It’s on http://PrescriptionDrugProblems.com

    And anyone else who reads this post I would appreciate your input as well.

    Please note that I am not trying to sell anything here - just get some information.

    Posted by Meridith |
  9. me, type 2. i am on insulin. i have tried cinnamon caps now for awhile and have mixed reviews since at times it appears that there is no positive effects. there have also been times when it appears to do. it is hard to say whether it helps or not since too many variables are involved. what you eat being the biggest variable.

    awhile back we prepared and ate chicken curry. even though i had some of that deadly food called rice i noticed that my bedtime levels were below 100 a couple of hours after dinner. sure i took my insulin with the meal.

    the next day i ate the leftover curry and got the same results.

    i believe and many have also discovered that the spice, tumeric helps lower one’s blood sugar levels.

    before you rush out to the local health food store where tumeric tabs are sold. i must also mention that the effects of the tumeric seem short lived, in that, soon after reaching a very low level the effects of the spice seem to wear off and soon your levels are back up. but, it works for temporary reduction.

    Posted by al |
  10. has anyone out there ever used Nopal to reduce Blood Sugar? It’s made from cactus in Mexico?
    Thanks

    Posted by George Todd |
  11. This is an area I plan to learn more about. I have been putting cinnamon in my morning coffee for over 6 months now. My last A1c was 6.1! The diabetes meds cause side effects that are a problem, so I want to use herbal remedies to support my health instead. This could be an excellent area for more research, and help all of us be much healthier.

    Posted by Jeanne |
  12. I also have noticed when I take a cinnamon vitamin suppliment it brings my glucose down.It also has chromium picolinate and Lipoic acid , co Q10, magnesium citrate and vanadium. This supplement is a part of many supplements prescribed by Heart Doctors from St. Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

    Posted by Evelyn |
  13. Evelyn,

    Can you tell me more about this supplement? I know St. Luke’s and their reputation. I trusted them with my life once :-). Is this one supplement or a combination that you take? Is it something they recommend that you get in a store or something the write a script for?

    Thanks.

    Posted by az |
  14. I have been taking 850 mg of Metformin for about 5 years now for type 2 Diabetes once a day. I have found that Chromium Picolinate,Alpha Lipoic acid,CLA, and Carb Intercept Phase II work very well
    I also take apple cider vinegar once a day and have found very good lowering of my blood glucose to as low as 89 mg/Dl in the afternoon. I have not taken Metformin for two days and will see how my
    readings are. My B12 went low because of Metformin
    so I am taking B12 supplements for now.

    Posted by dancybear |
  15. Been using herbs for about a year to get off Metformin and working. Went from 230 MG/DL using drugs to 110 MG/DL. Use Bittermelon, Fenugreek, Chromium, Alpha Lipic Acid, Magnesium and Cinnamin.

    Posted by Ralph |
  16. I am taking cinsulin 500 mg 2 capsules at bed time

    It is working for me .I have stopped Actos and Reduce the dosage of Diamicron 30MR .
    My H1A1C has dropped from 6.6 to 6.2.

    Posted by rsuresh4 |
  17. If you boil a cinnamon stick in water and drink the water it is more effective than taking the cinnamon tablets.

    Posted by Shemali |
  18. The cinnamon that you buy at the supermarket is Chinese cassia (cinnamomum cassia). It is also known as bastard cinnamon.

    What you want is Ceylon cinnamon(cinnamomum verum) from Sri Lanka or southern India. It is also known as true cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon contains a significant amount of methyl hydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP) which is thought to lower blood sugar.

    Ceylon cinnamon has a unique aroma and taste. Ceylon cinnamon is four to six times more expensive than Cassia. The Chinese are flooding the Indian market with bastard cinnamon. A lot of the bastard cinnamon is being misrepresented as Ceylon cinnamon and sold to unsuspecting customers.

    Posted by Al Kellaway |

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