Natural Remedies for Type 2 Diabetes

Hand holding a ginseng root
Maciej Toporowicz, NYC / Getty Images

If you're looking for a way to naturally balance your blood sugar, there are several natural remedies that can help. While there's no quick fix or magic cure, recent research has shown there are several supplements and medicinal herbs that may be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes—especially when used in conjunction with oral medication. Keep in mind also that a healthy lifestyle including a diet rich in fiber and veggies combined with regular exercise and stress reduction techniques are also key to treating the disease.

About Diabetes

Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the main source of fuel for body cells, and the hormone insulin allows glucose in the blood to enter those cells. In type 2 diabetes, genetic or lifestyle factors have resulted in a decrease in the body's ability to efficiently metabolize your sugar (glucose). This could mean that your body may no longer produce enough insulin, or that your cells are becoming more resistant to the effects of insulin, and too much glucose is starting to build up in your bloodstream.

If high glucose levels in the blood persist, it may damage the eyes, heart, kidneys, or nerves. However, there are several oral medications that can help, along with several supplements and herbal remedies to help your body naturally become more sensitive to insulin or to boost glucose uptake into the cells.

Alternative Treatments for Diabetes

Before starting any new supplements, be sure to discuss any alternative therapies with your physician first, as some may interact with the medications you may already be taking, and those medications may then need to be adjusted to prevent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

It's also important to note that self-treating with alternative medicine and avoiding or delaying standard care when you've been diagnosed with diabetes may be harmful to your health. Without proper treatment such as oral or injectable medications and regular blood sugar testing, diabetes may progress to more serious complications such as eye, liver, and kidney issues, nerve issues, diabetic coma, stroke, or even death.

Ginseng

Although there are several different types of ginseng, the most promising studies on ginseng and diabetes have used American ginseng ​(Panax quinquefolius). A meta-analysis has shown that American ginseng may significantly improve blood sugar control and fasting glucose (a marker of your general blood sugar levels) by increasing your body's insulin sensitivity.​​​ Look for capsules with a standardized extract of ginsenosides, the active ingredient.

Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism and helps body cells properly respond to insulin. In fact, one study found that the incidence of diabetes was lower in people who took a supplement containing chromium within the previous month.

There are several promising studies suggesting chromium supplementation may be effective, but they are far from conclusive. A recent review study looked at 20 different randomized controlled trials on chromium and found that supplementing did decrease fasting plasma glucose levels in five of the 20 studies, while hemoglobin A1c decreased by 0.5% in five of 14 studies, but that generally, the benefits can be significant, but widespread effectiveness of using chromium in diabetes care is fairly limited.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and in nutritional supplements. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 different biochemical reactions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and bone health.

One study suggests that low magnesium levels may worsen blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes. The same study shows evidence that magnesium supplementation may help with insulin resistance by increasing insulin sensitivity.

Be forewarned that while generally safe, very high doses of magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and confusion. It can interact with certain medications, such as those used for osteoporosis, high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers), as well as some antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and diuretics.​

Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been found to have glucose-lowering ability while also reducing lipid biomarkers including triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol.

A recent triple-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial looked at cinnamon supplementation in 140 people with type 2 diabetes over three months. In the study, participants were divided into groups and either given 2 capsules per day of 500 milligrams of cinnamon powder each or a placebo.

After three months, the statistically significant findings included improvements in body mass index (BMI), visceral fat, body fat, along with improvements in fasting plasma glucose, A1c, insulin production, insulin resistance, and lipids, as compared to the placebo group. The greatest effects were noticed in those with a BMI over 27 (technically considered overweight).

Aloe Vera

Although aloe vera gel is better known as a home remedy for minor burns and other skin conditions, a recent review suggests that aloe vera gel may help people with diabetes, thanks to a number of active phytosterol compounds from the plant that have been found to reduce blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels by enhancing glucose storage and utilization.

Gymnema

Studies suggest that the herb Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Amazingly, Gymnema can actually make sweet foods taste less sweet, so you end up wanting to eat less of them. The herb is well-known for its ability to reduce fat accumulation and help with weight loss, thanks to its enzyme-inhibiting properties.

Additionally, one such study found that thanks to Gymnema's potent antioxidant activity, it may help prevent organ damage often seen in diabetes, as the disease is marked by increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), caused by long-term elevation of blood sugar.

Because Gymnema may significantly lower blood sugar levels, people taking medications for diabetes or using insulin shouldn't take Gymnema simultaneously unless they are closely monitored by a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you are interested in trying a natural treatment in addition to your standard diabetes treatment, be sure do so only under the close supervision of your physician. If diabetes is not properly controlled, the consequences can be life-threatening. Also, inform your physician about any herbs, supplements, or natural treatments you are using, as some may interact with the medications you are taking and could result in hypoglycemia unless properly coordinated. 

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