5 Herbs and Spices for Diabetes Prevention

Not only do these herbs and spices taste great, but they have some possible health benefits that may help to keep diabetes at bay. Here are five delicious ways to give your diet a healthy boost. 



turmeric root and powder
Turmeric root and powder. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

One natural remedy that might help keep you diabetes-free: turmeric, an herb used in curry powder and available in dietary supplement form.

Research on turmeric and diabetes includes a study published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2012. In a clinical trial involving 240 people with prediabetes (a condition in which blood sugar levels are abnormally high but not high enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis), researchers observed that those given turmeric supplements for nine months were less likely to develop diabetes compared to study members given a placebo for the same time period.

Long used in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric appears to protect against diabetes in part by improving blood sugar control and treating insulin resistance.


Lemon Balm

lemon balm
Lemon Balm. Ottmar Diez/StockFood Creative/Getty Images

Research suggests that the herb lemon balm may be helpful to people with diabetes. In tests on animals, scientists found that those treated with low concentrations of lemon balm showed improvements in liver metabolism and regulation of blood sugar.

Often used for anxiety and stress in alternative medicine, lemon balm contains compounds that are said to promote relaxation. In past studies, researchers have found that the herb may help boost cognitive function in people with Alzheimer's disease and ease insomnia.

More research is needed before lemon balm can be recommended in the treatment of diabetes. Although no other natural remedy has been proven to protect against diabetes, some research suggests that cinnamon may improve blood sugar control in people struggling with the disease.


Black Tea

black tea
Black Tea. Peden+Munk/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Sipping black tea may help control diabetes, a study suggests. For the study, scientists looked at compounds extracted from green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. Of the three extracts, polysaccharides (a class of carbohydrates that includes starch and cellulose) derived from black tea were found to be most effective at slowing the absorption of blood sugar (also known as glucose). The black tea polysaccharides also appeared to be most effective at fighting free radicals (chemical by-products known to damage DNA and suppress the immune system).

In people with diabetes, glucose accumulates in the blood instead of entering cells, which can ultimately cause damage to the heart and kidneys. Past research suggests that natural substances such as cinnamon, curcumin (a compound found in the curry spice turmeric), and ginseng may also help fight diabetes. 


Bitter Cumin

Bitter cumin is just one of many spices used in Ayurveda. Sergey Kashkin/E+/Getty Images

Bitter cumin—a natural substance long used in Ayurveda, the alternative medicine of India—may serve as a rich source of antioxidants, a study from BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows. In Ayurveda, bitter cumin is often used to alleviate fever, treat hyperglycemia, and reduce pain.

In a series of lab tests, the authors of the recent study discovered that bitter cumin extract can help knock out free radicals and defend against oxidative stress (a destructive biological process linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke).

Previously published studies suggest that several Ayurvedic herbs may also be packed with antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich guggul, for instance, may help keep cholesterol in check. Another Ayurvedic herb high in antioxidants, fenugreek may help fight insulin resistance and aid in diabetes control.



matcha tea
Matcha Tea. Westend61/Getty Images

A favorite among tea connoisseurs, matcha is a type of green tea that comes in powdered form. As one of the few teas that contain the entire leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant, matcha is said to boast more antioxidant power than most tea varieties.

While scientists have yet to determine whether matcha delivers more antioxidants than other teas, there's some evidence that matcha may offer certain health benefits. For instance, a preliminary study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2009 found that matcha may help reduce cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar in check.

Although research on matcha's unique health effects is somewhat limited, many studies suggest that green tea, in general, may help protect against many health conditions (including high blood pressure, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer). Just don't go overboard—due to the caffeine content, green tea may increase the risk of problems like insomnia and headache when consumed in excess (i.e., more than five cups a day).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that—if current trends continue—as many as one in three American adults could have diabetes by the year 2050. If you're looking to prevent diabetes, follow a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercise at least a half-hour daily, maintain a healthy weight, and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. Some studies suggest that getting a sufficient intake of vitamin D may also aid in the prevention of diabetes.

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  • Ani V, Naidu KA. Antioxidant potential of bitter cumin (Centratherum anthelminticum (L.) Kuntze) seeds in in vitro models. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 May 20;11:40. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-40.
  • Chen, H., Qu, Z., Fu, L., Dong, P. and Zhang, X. (2009), Physicochemical Properties and Antioxidant Capacity of 3 Polysaccharides from Green Tea, Oolong Tea, and Black Tea. Journal of Food Science, 74: C469–C474. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01231.x
  • Chuengsamarn S, Rattanamongkolgul S, Luechapudiporn R, Phisalaphong C, Jirawatnotai S. Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012 Nov;35(11):2121-7. doi: 10.2337/dc12-0116. Epub 2012 Jul 6.
  • Chung MJ, Cho SY, Bhuiyan MJ, Kim KH, Lee SJ. Anti-diabetic effects of lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis) essential oil on glucose- and lipid-regulating enzymes in type 2 diabetic mice. Br J Nutr. 2010 Jul;104(2):180-8. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510001765. Epub 2010 May 21.
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