Natural remedies have been around for a long time. Some of them work well, while others have little basis in reality. It can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction if you want to incorporate vitamins and minerals for diabetes type 2 into your treatment routine.
This article aims to cut through some of the claims and take a look at what works and how they work.
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Supplements for type 2 diabetes come largely in two forms. There are the types of supplements that will help you control your diabetes through some ingredients that offer benefits similar to that of medicine, while others provide your body with the nutrients it needs to more effectively deal with your condition.
We’ll take a look at both types, as well as what traditional medicine is typically used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Let’s start first with the medications your doctor will likely prescribe if your blood sugar levels haven’t been lowered enough by your initial lifestyle changes.
Insulin helps the sugar in your bloodstream enter the body cells so it can be converted into energy. Type 1 diabetes means that your body isn’t producing enough insulin as a result of damage to the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. This leads to the accumulation of sugar in the blood.
In the case of patients with type 2 diabetes, their bodies often make enough insulin, but they don’t utilize it as efficiently as they should. Eventually, in many cases, their bodies will neither be able to produce enough insulin to keep up with the high blood sugar levels nor properly use it.
This diabetes-causing insulin resistance has the same effect as not making enough. Providing extra insulin to offset the amount of resistance to the hormone is a common treatment option for those with both types of diabetes.
Since patients with type 2 diabetes mainly have problems with insulin function and not production, the extra amount of insulin they may take is determined by their body’s level of resistance. This opens up an additional treatment option.
Drugs that reduce resistance to insulin by improving the body’s sensitivity to it can reduce the need for the hormone or work to lower the required dose. One of the most popular drugs used for this purpose is metformin.
Unless your blood sugar levels are really bad, insulin therapy likely won’t be your first line of defense against diabetes. Instead, changes to diet and exercise are likely to be recommended first.
Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight or not active enough, are within your control. Taking steps to reduce the impact of these risk factors may help keep you within a blood sugar range that doesn’t require insulin.
The number of carbs that you eat and the nutrients your body gets also play a big role in how well your blood sugar is managed without additional help. Some of those dietary choices may include the supplements we’ll discuss below, which may help provide that extra boost your body needs to reduce the need for insulin or avoid it entirely.
One of the big problems with the supplement market is that there are a lot of grand claims by people who want to sell you a product. Often, these claims have no scientific backing, and the supplements won’t help you at all.
With this list, we’ll run down some of the supplements that are claimed to be helpful in treating type 2 diabetes and see which of them might actually work.
You’ve likely had this popular spice in your food before. From cinnamon rolls to cinnamon candy, it’s a popular food item.
The spice has also been used for a long time as a folk remedy for a number of ailments. Some people claim that type 2 diabetes is among the conditions that can be treated with cinnamon. How do those claims stack up? Let’s look at why it’s supposed to work and whether it actually does.
Cinnamon is believed to help those with type 2 diabetes by reducing insulin resistance and allowing the body to more efficiently process blood sugar. It does this by improving the processing of signaling proteins and increasing the expression of insulin-sensitive glucose transporters that are necessary to make effective use of the insulin produced by your body.
It has also been shown to improve the sensitivity of some of the main receptors that play a significant role in fighting insulin resistance. This effect was even compared to that of some diabetes drugs such as thiazolidinediones.
Additionally, cinnamon was shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-lipidemic, antioxidant, and cardioprotective effects, all of which are very beneficial in diabetics. As a result of these actions, a meta-analysis of a number of studies has concluded that cinnamon does appear to have a beneficial impact on both blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
One of the problems with the analysis we have so far is that the studies used have tested wildly varying amounts of the spice. Doses ranged from 120 mg to 6 grams of the substance per day.
This makes it difficult to find an ideal dose. However, in regards to the way it should be consumed, it could vary from drinking cinnamon water or tea to eating cinnamon-containing foods and using cinnamon extract supplements. As long as you pay attention to the warnings below, cinnamon supplements are safe for you to try.
The meta-analysis conducted on cinnamon’s effectiveness in treating diabetes notes that some of the side effects may be harmful to people with impaired liver function.
If you have liver problems, be sure to ask your doctor before adding cinnamon to your treatment strategy.
Another plant that’s been well-known for its medicinal properties for a long time is aloe vera. You are probably familiar with its use as gels or ointments for treating sunburns and other external wounds.
However, the healing powers of the plant are said to go beyond topical use. Can this sunburn-reducing substance also reduce blood sugar levels?
Those who tout aloe vera as a treatment for type 2 diabetes say that it helps reduce blood sugar directly and also reduces the body’s resistance to insulin.
While both of these actions would be beneficial to diabetic patients, the research¹ is contradictory. A meta-analysis found that some studies show a benefit to using aloe vera for diabetes while others show no benefit. Glucose-lowering effects were stronger in prediabetics than in diabetics.
Like cinnamon, aloe vera struggles with not having a large number of studies done and with inconsistent dosing among them. The studies used in the meta-analysis varied from using raw leaves and powder to juice and more.
As a consequence, there are no recommendations by medical professionals regarding which form or dosage of aloe vera to take.
Aloe vera comes in many forms, and you must be careful when choosing an aloe vera product. One of the most common uses is for topical application. Products designed to treat sunburn or other external wounds are not safe for oral consumption.
Make sure to read any warning labels on the products you are evaluating, and ask a professional if you’re unsure whether a product is safe.
Less well-known than cinnamon or aloe vera, bitter melon is still a popular supplement choice among diabetics. The vegetable resembles a bumpy cucumber and tastes like a more bitter version of that vegetable.
Because of the similarities in both appearance and taste, bitter melon is also referred to as bitter cucumber.
Several studies have shown bitter melon to be beneficial as an antidiabetic. One study² showed a significant drop in blood sugar. The authors note, however, that the effect isn’t as strong as metformin.
Another study details the possible methods of action in greater detail. It is thought that bitter melon has the ability to regulate how much glucose is absorbed by the gut into the blood following a meal, and just like insulin, it can stimulate glucose uptake into skeletal muscle cells.
Additionally, it is said to improve the function of insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas, hence increasing the production of insulin.
There has been some evidence as well that bitter melon can improve blood glucose levels even when antidiabetic drugs are ineffective.
A 2022 trial has reported that administering 600 mg/day of bitter melon extracted peptide called mcIRBP-19-BGE significantly reduced the fasting blood glucose and HbA1c compared to the placebo group who were not responsive to antidiabetic medications.
Bitter melon can be purchased in its vegetable form to eat as you would any vegetable. The bitter taste might not be very appealing, however, and the dosage would be hard to measure.
Thankfully, you can also find bitter melon in supplement pill form.
One study shows that the significant drop in blood sugar came at the 2000 mg per day dosage. The lower doses of 500 mg and 1000 mg per day didn’t have the same effect. Another study used a similar dosage of 2500 mg and noted that dosages up to 4800 mg are safe for human consumption.
There are several warnings to go along with bitter melon usage. Experts warn that the vegetable may cause problems in pregnancy and interfere with blood sugar management in the time frame surrounding surgery, and its seeds may cause problems, such as severe anemia, for those with G6PD deficiency.
You should avoid its use while pregnant, breastfeeding, or within two weeks of surgery. Those with G6PD deficiency should avoid bitter melon entirely.
An herb similar to clover, fenugreek seeds have been used for both cooking and medicinal purposes.
The seeds are said to have a taste similar to maple syrup. They are often touted for their benefits for diabetic patients, but there are few studies backing up the claim. There are also several known side effects to contend with when consumed at higher levels than used in food.
There’s been at least one study that showed fenugreek seeds to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels.
The randomized, single-blind trial conducted for six months and involving 60 type 2 diabetes patients examined the use of the seeds in a 30-person group while the other 30 didn’t receive the seeds. By the 5th month, it was found that fenugreek produced a significant reduction in blood sugar levels in the treatment group compared to the control group who didn’t consume it.
In the study, 10 grams of fenugreek seed were soaked in hot water and consumed by participants once per day. Because this amount is within the typical serving size used in food preparation, and the seeds are believed to be safe in the amounts typically used in food, it’s safe to try as long as you look out for the potential side effects listed below.
The NCCIH³ warns of using fenugreek in amounts greater than is typical in food preparation. Symptoms of too much fenugreek include nausea and diarrhea, and it can also cause a harmful drop in blood sugar.
If you want to take fenugreek, it is important as a diabetic to keep an eye on your blood sugar level, particularly if you are prone to hypoglycemic episodes. Additionally, allergic reactions, liver toxicity, and birth defects have been reported when fenugreek is consumed in large doses.
This plant is well-known for its use in traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s been used for centuries. There are many various types of ginseng. However, two varieties are the most common: American and Asian.
More studies are needed to determine how much the two varieties differ in their effects as both vary in the number of their active compounds. Collectively, ginseng is used to treat a number of conditions, mostly due to the plant’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
In addition to these properties, ginseng in its natural or fermented form was found in a number of studies to help regulate both insulin production and glucose blood levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Although the method of action still isn’t known to researchers, compounds in ginseng known as ginsenosides have shown promise in their ability to help control diabetes.
Like many of the studies we’ve looked at, data on ginseng’s antidiabetic effects isn’t cut and dried. While some studies show clear benefits, others show little to none. Scientists are still exploring what variables may play a role in these differences.
Ginseng is typically available in either liquid extract or pill form. Finding the correct dosage for ginseng is particularly difficult because the extraction process and growing conditions of the plant can alter its component makeup and have an impact on how well it performs as an antidiabetic.
The NIH warns against using ginseng when pregnant and with potential interactions with some medications. Otherwise, the supplement is safe for short-term use, up to 6 months, as there is no clear data on side effects in long-term use.
Typical side effects of ginseng include insomnia, changes in heart rate or blood pressure, and headache. If you have anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, or any cardiovascular disease, it is very important to discuss this with your doctor before taking ginseng supplements.
A meta-analysis of studies on silymarin, the active compound in milk thistle, has shown that it does have a statistically significant effect on lowering blood sugar. While the plant is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, its exact mechanism of action in regards to lowering blood sugar is still unknown.
Milk thistle is typically taken in capsule form. The studies used in the meta-analysis used dosages ranging from 200 mg to 600 mg per day.
According to the NIH, the plant is well-tolerated in typical dosages. Typical side effects include digestive problems or allergic reactions. The safety of milk thistle for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is unknown.
In addition to the supplements above, there are some vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that play a role in how well your body processes blood sugar.
Most of the nutrients are available from food sources, but for those who can’t get enough from their diet, supplements are also available.
Studies have been conducted on alpha-lipoic acid’s benefits in treating diabetic macular edema and diabetic neuropathy. While no benefit was found for macular edema, the study on neuropathy showed promising results.
If you choose to try alpha-lipoic acid supplementation, be aware that high doses may cause stomach problems.
This essential trace mineral aids the body in processing glucose. Studies have shown that chromium supplementation can provide a small improvement in blood sugar management.
Such supplements may cause stomach problems, and the long-term effects of high dosages have not been studied.
Studies on whether or not magnesium can help those who have type 2 diabetes are inconclusive. However, those who are magnesium deficient are at greater risk of developing the disease. Large doses can cause diarrhea, while extremely large doses (over 5000 mg per day) can be fatal.
A number of studies⁴ have found a significant relationship between vitamin C deficiency and type 2 diabetes.
However, evidence isn’t strong that vitamin C supplements help diabetes. Some studies⁵ did show a weak benefit for blood sugar levels when participants took vitamin C supplements for over 30 days.
Similar to magnesium, there’s plenty of evidence⁶ that vitamin D deficiency can increase one’s chances of getting diabetes. However, there’s not enough evidence that it improves blood sugar once you get diagnosed.
That being said, a recent clinical trial⁷ has reported that vitamin D supplementation for six months significantly increased peripheral insulin sensitivity and β-cell function (insulin-secreting cells) in individuals at high risk of diabetes or with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.
Although fiber is a carbohydrate, it’s one that’s beneficial for diabetics. Unlike other carbs, fiber doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar. This makes it a safe carbohydrate for diabetics to eat.
It also has other health benefits, such as helping with heart health.
There are a lot of supplement companies out there, each with different quality and ethical standards. While there’s little government oversight of the supplement industry, there are independent testing labs that verify the product contains what it’s supposed to.
When shopping for supplements, look for seals from USP⁸ or NSF.⁹ These are voluntary certifications that most reputable supplement manufacturers will contract with to verify their products.
You should also be careful with dosing. For many of the studies we have, appropriate dosages have not been established.
If you’re unsure how a particular product might affect you, starting with a lower dosage and moving up can help reduce the impact of any negative side effects you may notice, providing you do not exceed the maximum recommended intake.
Your doctor will be able to provide you with specific information about how supplements may interact with your current treatment.
Most of the supplements we’ve discussed help control your diabetes by lowering blood sugar. This is what you want, but you also must be careful if you’re already on insulin or other blood sugar-lowering medications.
Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range goes in both directions. While you don’t want it to get too high, going too low is bad as well. Keep a close watch on your blood sugar as you try any new supplements so you can alert your doctor to any adjustments that may need to be made to your current medication.
There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes. Removing aggravating factors such as excess weight or low activity levels can allow you to live with the condition without the need for medication.
If your condition is mild enough, supplements that have been shown to lower blood sugar may be enough to keep you off of medicine as well, especially in conjunction with lifestyle changes. However, no supplements have been shown to completely rid a person of type 2 diabetes.
If you choose to use supplements to help manage your diabetes, it’s important to note that it must be done in conjunction with your entire treatment plan. If the supplements are successful in lowering your blood sugar, then your existing medications will need to be adjusted to account for the difference.
Additionally, should you choose to stop taking the supplements, medications may need to be adjusted again.
For some supplements, such as ginseng, the effects may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or even from batch to batch, as the growing conditions of the plant play a role in its chemical makeup. This makes it important, as it always is, to continually monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure they’re staying in the same range from batch to batch.
If you’re already on medication for any condition, ask your doctor about any supplements you plan on taking. This will help you avoid any contraindications that may exist between your medicine and certain types of supplements.
The first line of defense when you discover your blood sugar levels are elevated is a lifestyle change. By altering your diet and exercise habits, you can help eliminate some of the risk factors that worsen diabetes and better control your blood sugar.
While there are a variety of medicines that can help your body better regulate glucose, there are also a number of supplements that have shown promising results. You may find the supplements to be more affordable or convenient than medications prescribed by a doctor. Keep in mind, though, that you need to monitor your blood sugar to ensure that the supplements are helping.
Fenugreek | National Institute of Health
Latest standards updates | United States Pharmacopeial
Insulin resistance and diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Metformin: Current knowledge (2014)
Diabetes risk factors | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency | StatPearls
Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng) improves glucose and insulin regulation in well-controlled, type 2 diabetes: Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of efficacy and safety (2008)
Asian ginseng | National Institute of Health
Milk thistle | National Institute of Health
Diabetes and dietary supplements | National Institute of Health
Fiber: The carb that helps you manage diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention