Some of the alternative treatments for diabetes include bitter melon, cinnamon, and chromium picolinate. While these might help lower your A1C, make a consultation with your health physician before you start using them in your diabetes diet.
If you want to take your blood sugar under control, you can turn to many different solutions: regular exercise, leading a diet that is low on the glycemic index, regular sleep, stress management, and consistently taking your diabetes medication. However, for people with type 2 diabetes, following these guidelines is not that easy, as it can be difficult not to look for other solutions for this troublesome disease.
It doesn’t take long to find out what other people are thinking, as a quick Google search for alternative diabetes treatments can give you an astoundingly big list of results, ranging from acupuncture to miraculous diabetes “cures” one the very first search results page.
With that much information at your fingertips, how can you be certain that it’s true? Or to ask an even better question: What is safe?
As a matter of fact, even though researchers haven’t found a cure for diabetes, some alternative solutions exist for blood sugar management. Some of these solutions were found accidentally, while others were found by research. Some of them which are being used by regular people with diabetes come coupled with medial assurance.
Bitter melon may help lower your A1C
Greta Lint, from Ashboro, North Carolina, found out she has an A1C that usually means type 2 diabetes. Therefore, besides regular exercises, healthy diet, and diabetes medication, her endocrinologist advised her to give bitter melon a try. Bitter melon is a long and bitter gourd found in South America, parts of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Her endocrinologist said that, “anecdotally, all of his patients who have followed his advice have seen a considerable drop in their A1C.”
Ms. Lint was able to find this fruit at a local Asian grocery store and started mixing the sun-dried slices with her tea. Even though this fruit made the tea have a bad aftertaste, three months after she started drinking it, she managed to lower her A1C levels from 6.5 (an indication for diabetes), to more normal levels of 5.9.
It is her opinion that bitter melon had a role in this, something that is backed up by some research papers such as a study that was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology which said that bitter melon has a “modest” effect on blood sugar levels. Do note that even though bitter melon might help with A1C levels, it doesn’t mean you should stop taking your medication, as researchers pointed out that the hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon was equal to taking less than 1,000 milligrams of metformin a day – a typical dosage for diabetics, as reported by the Mayo Clinic.
Magnesium supplements helps with nutritional deficiency
If you are a person that has to deal with diabetes, yours or a loved one’s – you are most certainly familiarized with the importance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber-rich foods, and the way they help regulate your blood sugar and waistline. However, diabetics, are also advised to take care of their magnesium levels, since they are typically in greater need of this mineral due to deficiency. That is what the doctor said to Jennifer Reich from Allentown, Pennsylvania, when she made a visit to his office due to her type 2 diabetes.
This is also backed by research such as the review that was published in the journal Biological Trace Elements Research in which researchers noted that chronic magnesium deficiency is connected with insulin resistance, an indicator of type 2 diabetes.
According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a member of the medical advisory board at the Nutritional Magnesium Association in Kihei, Hawaii – magnesium is very important for the transfer of glucose to cells, which, in turn – provides energy for the whole body. If you develop insulin resistance, as many diabetics do, this process can’t happen. “If there is not enough magnesium to do this job, both insulin and glucose become elevated. The excess glucose gets stored as fat and contributes to weight gain and diabetes,” says Dr. Dean, further noting that magnesium “activates hundreds of enzymes that control digestion, absorption, and the utilization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.”
Warm milk with cinnamon and honey help prevent the Somogyi effect
Stephanie Rayman from Shalimar, Florida, was 32 when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and this was probably hereditary, as her family had a history of this disease, in addition to her own history of gestational diabetes. However, she managed to lower her blood sugar by drinking warm milk with honey before she went to sleep. It is known that hydration is crucial for people with diabetes, and cinnamon has been proved to provide benefits for the disease, but what is the role of honey in all of this?
According to Jewel Sheehan, MD, a resident in pediatrics and anesthesia at Stanford University in California, the combo of warm milk, cinnamon, and honey appear to have helped stabilize Rayman’s blood sugar, and prevented the Somogyi effect, which increases the blood sugar levels during the morning.
Grace Derocha, RD, CDE, a certified coach at Blue Cross Shield of Michigan in Detroit, says that the Somogyi effect appears when surplus insulin builds up in the bloodstream during the night, caused by the use of long-acting insulin or some late-night snacks that help blood sugar levels stabilization. “This, in turn, drops blood sugars while sleeping, and then stored blood sugars are released into the blood,” Derocha explains.
While the Somogyi effect is rare, it can more commonly be found in type 1 diabetics, as revealed by a paper published in May 2013 in the journal Diabetic Medicine. It is not to be confused with the dawn phenomenon, which is a process that also leads to high blood sugar levels during the morning – but this happens due to increased hormone levels naturally secreted by your body to help you wake up. “Whether you are diabetic or not, this happens to help everyone get up in the morning,” Derocha says. However, “when someone is diabetic, their body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin is not able to respond in time to counteract the release of blood sugars.” Therefore, by drinking this milk, honey, and cinnamon combination, Rayman prevents her nightly hypoglycemia, including her morning hyperglycemia.
However, Derocha notes that people that have high blood sugar levels during the morning might want to think twice before trying this combination since “every person with diabetes will be different,” and people should talk to their diabetes professional before resorting to using it.
On the other hand, if you tend to have high blood sugar during the morning, you can still eat a snack before going to bed, just make sure it has 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, as well as lean proteins or healthy fats. The proteins and healthy fats will delay the impact carbohydrates have on your blood sugar levels simply because the body needs more time to digest them, according to Derocha. “Honey and milk are both added sugars and carbohydrates,” she says. “Therefore, adding them along with a lean protein for a bedtime snack could help people with diabetes avoid high morning blood sugar.”
However, Derocha issues a warning not to use this mixture if you want to manage your everyday diabetes. Even though cinnamon and tea are included in recommended diabetes diets for their calorie-free contents, honey and full-fat milk can negate the benefits of this drink. “When a person with diabetes adds honey, a natural sweetener with carbohydrates and sugar; or milk, a carbohydrate food source that has natural dairy sugar, or lactose; it will then impact their blood sugar,” Derocha says.
Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar
Cinnamon, on the other side – can greatly help if you include it in your diabetes diet. Some research shows that cinnamon might have a role in regulating blood sugar levels with type 2 diabetics. According to a research published in September 2013 in the journal Annals of Family Medicine pointed out that cinnamon can also help lower fasting glucose levels, reduce LDL, manage “bad” cholesterol levels, and, on top of that – it doesn’t affect your A1C.
Derocha also adds that “cinnamon does not give any carbohydrate or sugar calories to increase human blood sugar, but it still gives you that taste of sweetness that you may be craving.”
She suggests using cinnamon to add some sweetness to yogurt, cereals, oatmeal, cottage cheese, tea, coffee, or any other foods or dink you might want sweetened. “Adding cinnamon to peanut butter to dip apples into or use as a spread is also fun. It can be a great addition to baking where one can then cut added sugars from the recipe,” Derocha adds.
Chromium Picolniate supplements promote insulin production
Shelby Miller from Columbia, South Carolina said, “I’m not diabetic, but I know enough to take chromium.” She added that this supplement helped her lower her blood sugar levels. And she might be correct, as a study published in the journal Diabetes showed that picolinate might help type 2 diabetics improve their A1C results, glucose tolerance, insulin production, and cholesterol levels.
According to Robin Foroutan, RDN, who is a holistic counselor in New York City, even though it’s unclear how exactly chromium works, this mineral seems to increase insulin’s signaling activity and, which leads to lower blood sugar levels. “Furthermore, there is evidence that people with a chromium deficiency tend to have elevated blood sugars or are insulin resistant,” Foroutan adds.
And now, the obvious question: How much chromium is needed to benefit from it? Foroutan says that 200 to 500 micrograms of chromium a day is recommended dose. “Too much chromium can actually worsen blood sugar control, though toxicity is rare,” she says.
The easiest way to find out if you need to take chromium supplements is by adding chromium to your diet and check if it does anything for your blood sugar levels – not before you have consulted with your doctor, though. Foroutan also suggests to fortify your diet with multivitamins, as well. “Depleted stores of any trace mineral can have big impacts on how the body functions, and because different minerals affect each other’s absorption, taking these minerals together in a multivitamin or multimineral is ideal,” she explains.
Shelby Miller’s way of adding chromium to her diet is in yeast form, which is naturally found in brewer’s yeast. It is worth noting that there isn’t much research done on the level of absorption for the yeast or picolniate forms of chromium.
Green tea helps with blood glucose management and lowering diabetes risk
Drinking green tea in the morning and during the night has been proven to help manage blood sugar levels. It is advised to follow every and any naturopathic research being done, and decide which type of tea to drink. In general, most researchers suggest drinking green tea, saying that it provides many benefits for diabetics.
This might be due to the fact that green tea is full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidants that promote our metabolism and hinder amylase – an enzyme that turns carbohydrates into glucose. "This, in turn, could decrease the breakdown and absorption of glucose into the blood,” Derocha says.
A study that was published in April 2016 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine promote the idea that drinking tea can help manage diabetes. The researchers went through information from 25 Japanese communities and their research showed that drinking tea was connected with lower diabetes risks.
At the same time, a study published in the journal Phytochemistry showed that green tea also helps control glucose levels, lower the risks of heart disease, and help with weight loss.
Things to keep an eye to when looking for alternative diabetes treatment
Even though the treatments we mentioned in this article have proved themselves to be helpful for some people with diabetes, you are advised to consult with your personal physician before making any significant changes to your diet and lifestyle – and this is of extreme importance when trying out alternative treatments, Emmy Suhl, RD, CDE, at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Since supplements aren’t under regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), their quality and dosages aren’t clear.
It’s also worth pointing out that supplements might have negative side-effects for your diabetes condition, or might have adverse effects when coupled with any medications you might be taking, Suhl warns. In some cases, if your doctor doesn’t know which supplements you’re using, he or she might prescribe a medication that lowers your blood sugar levels, which, when coupled with your supplements – might lower your blood sugar to unsafe levels.
Other issues might negate the success of the treatments as well. For example, if you don’t have magnesium deficiency, taking a supplement might not have any beneficial effect at all. On the other hand, if you do have magnesium deficiency, you might not be taking the recommended dose and you won’t see any results at all.
Moreover, various studies have shown different and often contradicting results as to the beneficial effect of supplements on people, diabetics or not. “That’s not to say they don’t help, but to date, research studies have not established this is the case,” and because of that, the American Diabetes Association doesn’t recommend them.
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