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Diagnosed with or at risk for Type 2 diabetes? These nine natural substances may help you reverse course for a healthier future
Type 2 diabetes develops when your body’s ability to process glucose for fuel becomes impaired, resulting in too much sugar circulating in your bloodstream. Type 2 diabetics may require daily insulin injections to compensate for a lack of adequate insulin production in the pancreas, a dangerous condition if left untreated.
Formerly called adult-onset diabetes, this chronic condition has become so ubiquitous in the U.S. that it is now common in younger people. Type 2 diabetes symptoms may go undetected for years and can include:
- Increased hunger and/or thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores and/or frequent infections
- Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet[i]
While there is no prescribed cure, Type 2 diabetes is highly responsive to lifestyle changes such as losing weight, getting regular exercise and making healthy dietary adjustments. We’ve compiled a list of nine natural substances for Type 2 diabetes that have been clinically shown to help improve the signs and potentially reverse the symptoms of this pervasive disorder.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced endogenously by your body when exposed to sunlight, and is present in certain foods and supplements. Vitamin D promotes numerous biological activities, including calcium absorption, bone growth and repair, and glucose metabolism.[ii] It is vitamin D’s positive impact on blood sugar that makes it a must-have nutrient to support diabetics and pre-diabetics.
A detailed meta-analysis of 37 studies found that vitamin D supplementation was associated with a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C in individuals with Type 2 diabetes, and an improvement in insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetics and pregnant diabetic women.[iii] Vitamin D may provide the added benefit of reducing inflammation in patients with Type 2 diabetes, according to a 2020 study.[iv]
Probiotics are a well-known gut-health supplement, but did you know they can support the health of diabetics? The subject of much research, probiotic supplementation has been shown to improve multiple biomarkers in diabetic patients, making probiotics, either from fermented foods or in supplement form, high on the list of safe adjunct therapies for Type 2 diabetes.
Published in the journal Pharmacological Research, a review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on the effects of probiotic and prebiotic supplementation in diabetic patients found that they significantly decreased C-reactive proteins that mark oxidative stress compared to placebos.
In addition, probiotic and prebiotic supplementation was found to increase total antioxidant capacity among patients with diabetes.[v] Supplementation with a high-quality probiotic was associated in another study with significant improvement in glycated hemoglobin and fasting insulin levels in Type 2 diabetes patients.[vi]
It is estimated that 61% of U.S. adults are deficient in magnesium.[vii] Low intake of this critical nutrient is associated with increased risks for chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Type 2 diabetes.[viii] Type 2 diabetics may be even more sensitive to deficiency since magnesium is required by the pancreas in insulin production.
Expounding on research showing that higher dietary intakes of magnesium (Mg) seem to correspond to lower diabetes rates, a 2016 study reviewed eligible randomized controlled trials and found that magnesium treatment reduced fasting plasma glucose and improved insulin-sensitivity parameters in patients with diabetes and in those at risk of diabetes.[ix]
Other studies show that magnesium deficiency can worsen symptoms of diabetes,[x] and high-dose supplementation can improve insulin resistance and may help prevent complications in Type 2 diabetic patients.[xi]
4. Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from free radicals, unstable molecules that are believed to cause cellular damage linked to illness and aging.[xii] As with all vitamins and minerals, consuming the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C is key for optimal health, especially for Type 2 diabetics and those at risk of diabetes.
Vitamin C deficiency is linked to chronic inflammation, joint pain and poor wound healing, symptoms that are also prevalent among Type 2 diabetes sufferers.[xiii] Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to improve glycemic control and blood pressure in people with Type 2 diabetes,[xiv] and there is evidence to suggest that vitamin C intake is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes.[xv]
Ensuring that you consume adequate amounts of this critical vitamin is both easy and delicious. Besides a high-quality supplement, citrus fruits and berries are loaded with vitamin C, as are red and green peppers, tomatoes, and greens like broccoli and kale.
5. Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fats play an important role in your body and may be especially important for Type 2 diabetics. These essential fatty acids provide structure to cell membranes and are found in the brain, retina, and sperm in high concentrations.[xvi] Studies demonstrate that omega-3 fats may improve symptomology associated with Type 2 diabetes by enhancing metabolism and lowering risks of comorbidities.
A study on Type 2 diabetic patients who were fed liquid nutrition found that those who consumed a formula rich in omega-3s had significantly lower blood glucose responses compared with patients consuming the standard nutritional formula. They also demonstrated more energy with significantly lower insulin concentrations.[xvii]
There are at least 2,736 scientific abstracts on curcumin research on GreenMedInfo.com, ranking this super-spice as one of the most potent natural substances for disease prevention, including Type 2 diabetes. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric spice, responsible for the bright orange color and possibly for turmeric’s notable anti-inflammatory effects.
A study from Japan found that curcuminoids and sesquiterpenoids (another terpene in turmeric) suppress increases in blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetic mice.[xix] Another study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that curcumin may be an effective therapy to prevent Type 2 diabetes in prediabetic groups.[xx]
In the study, subjects were prescribed either a curcumin supplement or placebo for nine months. After the treatment period, 16.4% of subjects in the placebo group were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, whereas no one in the curcumin supplement group met the criteria for diagnosis.
Additionally, the curcumin supplement group showed a lower level of insulin resistance and had better cellular functioning according to the Homeostatic model assessment (HOMA).
Psyllium is a soluble plant fiber used to treat bowel disorders and encourage regularity, but it may also be a useful therapy for regulating both dietary cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Benefits associated with the intake of these gel-forming fibers include reducing serum cholesterol and improving glycemic control in patients at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, making a daily dose of psyllium an effective addition to a diabetes-prevention program.[xxi]
A 2002 study on psyllium in Type 2 diabetic patients indicated a beneficial therapeutic effect on metabolic control, as well as a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Researchers concluded that consumption of psyllium did not adversely affect vitamin or mineral concentrations in patients, allaying a common fear that psyllium negates the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements.[xxii]
Ginger root has been used in both culinary and medicinal preparations for thousands of years. It is a popular home remedy for ailments such as the common cold, nausea and stomachache, but it can also be an aid for individuals with Type 2 diabetes.
An Iranian study on ginger supplementation found that 3 grams of powdered ginger daily for three months improved glycemic and lipoprotein indices and boosted total antioxidant capacity in prediabetic individuals.[xxiii]
Other studies support the use of ginger supplementation as an effective treatment for prevention of Type 2 diabetes complications.[xxiv],[xxv] Of course, you can add fresh or dried ginger root to smoothies, soups and other recipes, but it may be difficult to consume therapeutic quantities of this spicy herb without the addition of a supplement.
Cinnamon gained notoriety as a useful therapy for Type 2 diabetes when a 2003 study suggested that a small amount of cinnamon each day could lower fasting blood glucose levels.[xxvi] While traditional medicine is loath to promote natural substances for health maintenance, cinnamon’s long history of use as an antidiabetic spice has forced science to recognize its potential.
A study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism acknowledged this history as well as cinnamon’s potential as an antidiabetic adjunct therapy.[xxvii]
A 2011 meta-analysis of clinical studies on the effects of cinnamon intake on people with type 2 diabetes and/or prediabetes found that cinnamon consumption (whole or extract) results in a statistically significant lowering of fasting blood glucose levels.[xxviii] Cinnamon supplementation has also been found to significantly decrease systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with Type 2 diabetes.[xxix]
[i] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Type 2 diabetes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193
[ii] National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Fact Sheets, Vitamin-D, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
[iii] Reza Sahebi, Majid Rezayi, Maryam Emadzadeh, Maryam Salehi, Maryam Tayefi, Seyed Mostafa Parizadeh, Negin Behboodi, Azam Rastgar-Moghadam, Jasmin Kharazmi Khorassani, Sara Kharazmi Khorassani, Akbar Mohammadi, Gordon A Ferns, Majid Ghayour Mobarhan. The effects of vitamin D supplementation on indices of glycemic control in Iranian diabetics: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2019 Feb ;34:294-304. Epub 2018 Dec 19. PMID: 30712741
[iv] Cynthia El Hajj, Stéphane Walrand, Mariana Helou, Kaissar Yammine. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Inflammatory Markers in Non-Obese Lebanese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 9 ;12(7). Epub 2020 Jul 9. PMID: 32659891
[v] Hui Juan Zheng, Jing Guo, Jia Qi, Shan Huang Yi, Wei Jun Huang, Wen Ting Zhang, Fan Zhang, Wei Jing Liu, Yao Xian Wang. The effect of probiotic and synbiotic supplementation on biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in diabetic patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Feb 19. Epub 2019 Feb 19. PMID: 30794924
[vi] Kecheng Yao, Linghai Zeng, Qian He, Wei Wang, Jiao Lei, Xiulan Zou. Effect of Probiotics on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis of 12 Randomized Controlled Trials. Med Sci Monit. 2017 Jun 22 ;23:3044-3053. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28638006
[vii] Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#magnesium
[viii] Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#magnesium
[ix] N Veronese, S F Watutantrige, C Luchini, M Solmi, G Sartore, G Sergi, E Manzato, M Barbagallo, S Maggi, B Stubbs. Effect of magnesium supplementation on glucose metabolism in people with or at risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug 17. Epub 2016 Aug 17. PMID: 27530471
[x] Sonny Bherwani, Srushtee Bipin Jibhkate, A S Saumya, Sitendu Kumar Patel, Ritu Singh, L H Ghotekar. Hypomagnesaemia: a modifiable risk factor of diabetic nephropathy. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2016 Jul 14. Epub 2016 Jul 14. PMID: 27416617
[xi] M de Lordes Lima, T Cruz, J C Pousada, L E Rodrigues, K Barbosa, V Canguçu. The effect of magnesium supplementation in increasing doses on the control of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 1998 May;21(5):682-6. PMID: 9589224
[xii] National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Fact Sheets, Vitamin C, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
[xiii] National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Fact Sheets, Vitamin C, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
[xiv] Shaun A Mason, Michelle A Keske, Glenn D Wadley. Effects of Vitamin C Supplementation on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in People With Type 2 Diabetes: A GRADE-Assessed Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Diabetes Care. 2021 Feb ;44(2):618-630. PMID: 33472962
[xvi] National Institutes of Health, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets, Omega-3 fatty acids, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
[xvii] Anne Coble Voss, Kevin C Maki, W Timothy Garvey, Deborah S Hustead, Carolyn Alish, Brenda Fix, Vikkie A Mustad. Effect of two carbohydrate-modified tube-feeding formulas on metabolic responses in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition. 2008 Oct;24(10):990-7. Epub 2008 Aug 21. PMID: 18718737
[xviii] L C Tapsell, M J Batterham, G Teuss, S-Y Tan, S Dalton, C J Quick, L J Gillen, K E Charlton. Long-term effects of increased dietary polyunsaturated fat from walnuts on metabolic parameters in type II diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug ;63(8):1008-15. Epub 2009 Apr 8. PMID: 19352378
[xix] Tozo Nishiyama, Tatsumasa Mae, Hideyuki Kishida, Misuzu Tsukagawa, Yoshihiro Mimaki, Minpei Kuroda, Yutaka Sashida, Kazuma Takahashi, Teruo Kawada, Kaku Nakagawa, Mikio Kitahara. Curcuminoids and sesquiterpenoids in turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) suppress an increase in blood glucose level in type 2 diabetic KK-Ay mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Feb 23;53(4):959-63. PMID: 15713005
[xx] Somlak Chuengsamarn, Suthee Rattanamongkolgul, Rataya Luechapudiporn, Chada Phisalaphong, Siwanon Jirawatnotai. Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012 Nov ;35(11):2121-7. Epub 2012 Jul 6. PMID: 22773702
[xxi] Roger D Gibb, Johnson W McRorie, Darrell A Russell, Vic Hasselblad, David A D'Alessio. Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov 11. Epub 2015 Nov 11. PMID: 26561625
[xxiii] Farzad Shidfar, Asadollah Rajab, Tayebeh Rahideh, Nafiseh Khandouzi, Sharieh Hosseini, Shahrzad Shidfar. The effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on glycemic markers in patients with type 2 diabetes. J Complement Integr Med. 2015 Feb 10. Epub 2015 Feb 10. PMID: 25719344
[xxiv] Tahereh Arablou, Naheed Aryaeian, Majid Valizadeh, Faranak Sharifi, Aghafatemeh Hosseini, Mahmoud Djalali. The effect of ginger consumption on glycemic status, lipid profile and some inflammatory markers in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Feb 4. Epub 2014 Feb 4. PMID: 24490949
[xxv] Natalia de Las Heras, María Valero-Muñoz, Beatriz Martín-Fernández, Sandra Ballesteros, Antonio López-Farré, Baltasar Ruiz-Roso, Vicente Lahera. Molecular factors involved in the hypolipidemic- and insulin-sensitizing effects of a ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) extract in rats fed a high-fat diet. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Feb ;42(2):209-215. Epub 2016 Nov 2. PMID: 28125276
[xxvi] Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes. Alam Khan, Mahpara Safdar, Mohammad Muzaffar Ali Khan, Khan Nawaz Khattak, Richard A. Anderson. Diabetes Care. Dec 2003, 26 (12) 3215-3218;
[xxvii] Kirkham S, Akilen R, Sharma S, Tsiami A. The potential of cinnamon to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2009 Dec;11(12):1100-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1326.2009.01094.x. PMID: 19930003.
[xxix] Navid Jamali, Mohammad Jalali, Javad Saffari-Chaleshtori, Mohammad Samare-Najaf, Ali Samareh. Effect of cinnamon supplementation on blood pressure and anthropometric parameters in patients with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020 Jan 30 ;14(2):119-125. Epub 2020 Jan 30. PMID: 32032898