If you're trying to lower your blood sugar levels, natural supplements may be helpful. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate supplements, so understanding the possible side effects and mechanisms of what you plan to take beforehand is essential since some supplements can have adverse effects or interact with other medications. You should always talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements. Read on to learn about common natural supplements that help improve blood sugar levels.
Studies have shown that there are many natural supplements that may help lower fasting blood glucose, postprandial (post-meal) glucose, and A1c levels.
The FDA does not regulate supplements for safety and efficacy, so it is essential that you research a supplement before starting it.
Some supplements have adverse side effects and are inappropriate to take with certain medications.
You should always speak with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.
Supplements that may help lower blood sugar
Natural supplements have been shown to help lower blood sugar levels in certain patients. However, it is important to remember that supplements are not free of side effects, and you should always talk with your healthcare provider before you start taking any new supplement or vitamin.
The supplements below have been shown in clinical studies to provide help lowering blood sugar levels:
Cinnamon may lower blood glucose levels but should be used in moderation. Cassia cinnamon is the most common type of cinnamon sold in the United States. According to studies, adding cinnamon to the diet helped reduce fasting blood glucose levels by an average of 25 mg/dL. The FDA recognizes cinnamon as safe for long-term oral consumption.
If you are taking other medications that can thin your blood, you should talk with your healthcare provider before adding cinnamon to your diet or starting a cinnamon supplement. Cinnamon may increase the level of coumarin, which has blood-thinning properties and can lead to liver damage when taken in higher doses. Ceylon cinnamon is preferred for these reasons.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
ALA is an antioxidant that may lower fasting blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. However, it does not significantly reduce A1c levels. Studies have shown that ALA is generally well tolerated for up to four years but may cause gastrointestinal upset, mild rashes, and headaches. It may also decrease the effectiveness of synthetic thyroid hormone.
Berberine studies have shown that it may decrease fasting blood glucose and postprandial glucose levels by 15 to 34 mg/dL and reduce A1c by 0.7% compared to lifestyle interventions alone. Taking it at a dose of 0.9–1.5 g orally daily showed the best results. Avoid taking this supplement during pregnancy, as it may cause premature contractions and harm fetal brain development. It may also increase the risk of bleeding especially when taken with other blood thinners like warfarin or aspirin.
Chromium may be able to lower blood glucose levels by 18 mg/dL. In one small clinical study, chromium reduced weight gain in patients taking sulfonylureas. Studies have shown that chromium worked best in individuals with poor nutritional status or low chromium levels. The FDA and Institute of Medicine suggest that taking 200 mg daily for up to six months is safe. However, some cases reported renal and liver injury related to chromium.
Fenugreek is an herb that may decrease fasting blood glucose and postprandial glucose levels by 15 to 23 mg/dL and reduce A1c by 1.16%. Dosages and formulations need further research as these were not uniform across trials. Studies show that when taken orally for up to six months, it was generally safe. Possible side effects include mild gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and flatulence, which are worse when taken on an empty stomach.
Whole flaxseed may reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. In a small study, it reduced blood glucose levels by 6 mg/mL but provided no change in A1c. Whole flaxseed works better than flaxseed oil. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal upset like bloating and flatulence. It also has a potential estrogenic effect, so patients should not take it if they have estrogen receptor-positive cancers.
American ginseng studies showed that taking up to 3 grams for 12 weeks to lower fasting blood glucose levels was safe. It decreased average blood sugar levels by 16 mg/dL, but no change was observed in A1c levels. However, patients currently taking warfarin must avoid using ginseng as it can decrease the levels and effects of warfarin.
Studies have shown that individuals with adequate vitamin D levels have a 43% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The benefits of Vitamin D are seen most in patients with vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D supplementation may positively affect glycemic control by reducing insulin resistance, improving lipids, and lowering blood pressure.
Zinc plays a vital role in the production and secretion of insulin. Zinc deficiencies have been linked to diabetes and many diabetics are deficient in this mineral. Incorporating a zinc supplement can help support the body's natural insulin function, but can interact with many different medications and should be used cautiously.
Studies have shown that having high levels of homocysteine is associated with increased insulin resistance and risk of type 2 diabetes. A folate supplement can help lower homocysteine levels and insulin resistance, decrease A1c by 0.46% on average, and decrease fasting blood glucose by 0.15 mmol/L.
Probiotics may help reduce fasting blood glucose and A1c levels. Studies show an average reduction in A1c levels by 0.81% when taking a probiotic supplement. Taking a probiotic has also been associated with reducing fasting blood glucose levels by 0.98 mmol/L.
Gymnema, also known as gurmar, is an herb that grows in the tropical regions of India and Africa. Studies have shown that individuals who took gymnema leaf extract 25 mg twice daily for three months had significant improvements in their fasting blood glucose level by 26 mg/dL and their A1c by 1%. Administered at a dose of 500 mg twice daily for 60 days, fasting blood glucose decreased by 43 to 55 mg/dL. No side effects for this supplement were reported in any of the studies.
Ivy gourd is a plant that grows in many parts of India and has been shown to have insulin-mimetic properties. One study that gave its subjects 20 grams of ivy gourd leaves showed a postprandial blood glucose level mean difference of 11.46 mg/dL between the experimental and control groups. According to other studies, patients taking 1 gram daily for 90 days experienced a 16% reduction in fasting blood glucose level and an 18% reduction in postprandial blood glucose level. There were no adverse side effects reported in these studies.
Prickly pear cactus
Prickly pear cactus is commonly used in Mexican culture to treat type 2 diabetes. It has a high soluble fiber and pectin content, which can cause a hypoglycemic effect. Studies showed that a single 300-gram dose of steamed prickly pears cactus decreased the postprandial blood glucose when added to a high-carbohydrate meal but not when added to a high-protein meal. Another study showed that adding prickly pear cactus to common Mexican breakfast meals could reduce postprandial blood glucose levels by 20–48%.
Considerations before taking any supplements
The FDA does not regulate supplements in the United States, making it challenging to ensure that supplements contain accurate amounts of the listed ingredients. Healthcare providers may also need more training and knowledge on dietary supplements to make it easier for patients to receive appropriate education on their options for supplements. However, if you are considering starting a supplement, it is crucial that you talk with your healthcare provider about this first to make sure it is safe for you to take.
While taking a natural supplement may seem to be low risk, there are many concerns with starting a supplement, including potential drug interactions, increased risks of hypoglycemia and other adverse effects, and inconsistent quality and quantity of the supplement's ingredients. Since the FDA does not regulate supplements, they do not have to investigate supplements to determine their safety or efficacy before they are sold. This makes it extremely important to speak with your healthcare provider about using supplements with a proven track record.
- Diabetes Spectrum. Safety and Efficacy of Dietary Supplements for Diabetes.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Supplements to Lower Blood Sugar.