Home Remedies For Diabetes and Prediabetes

The number one prescribed drug in the world for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is now a cheap generic drug originally derived from the French lilac, called metformin. Although it’s approved for the treatment of diabetes, it’s now arguably also the safest (but not the best) weight loss drug ever invented, and it has been proven to prevent type 2 diabetes. More than 100 clinical trials are currently testing it to potentially prevent and help treat a variety of cancers (breast, colon, and prostate) as well, along with conventional medicine.

Metformin works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver, making muscle tissue more sensitive to insulin, blocking the absorption of some carbohydrates in the intestines, and controlling blood sugar and insulin levels. Plus, it can help those with and without diabetes lose weight.

One very important thing to note, however, is that the same large clinical trial that showed metformin can prevent diabetes (the Diabetes Prevention Program study) also showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes (exercising, following a heart- healthy diet, and losing weight) worked better than this drug! You will never see that advertised on TV, though, despite the fact that type 2 diabetes is a superepidemic all over the United States, Puerto Rico, and now the world, affecting both adults and kids.

What are Diabetes and Prediabetes?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that shuttles blood sugar (glucose) out of the blood and into cells to be burned for energy or turned into fat for storage. Type 1 diabetes—which usually strikes in childhood—occurs when the cells fail to produce insulin. The resulting buildup of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia) leads to many (often life-threatening) health problems.

Type 2 diabetes is usually the result of lifestyle in combination with genetics/family history, and it occurs when the pancreas gets worn out from trying to make more insulin to lower blood sugar levels or the body becomes resistant to it. Type 2 is preventable in some cases, while type 1 is usually caused by a genetic or autoimmune disorder. Having elevated blood sugar levels that aren’t high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes is known as prediabetes, and it’s a sign that you need to make lifestyle changes immediately.

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, large appetite and thirst (even though you’re eating and drinking), vision changes, slow wound healing, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and fatigue. Those with type 1 diabetes might experience unexplained weight loss. Chronic diabetes can lead to vision loss (diabetic retinopathy), cardiovascular disease, circulatory and nerve problems (peripheral neuropathy), kidney damage, and infections. And it increases your risk for most health problems, especially heart attack and stroke.

New American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines suggest anyone with a body mass index of 25 or more (about 75 percent of Americans and growing), which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes, should be tested. More than 80 percent of people with type 2 are overweight or obese, and studies have shown that weight loss—even as little as 10 pounds in those with prediabetes—can reduce the risk of developing full-blown diabetes by more than 50 percent.

Lifestyle changes and inexpensive medications to prevent type 2 diabetes should be your main focus. However, research has shown that the following supplements can help lower or maintain blood sugar levels, and the benefit may outweigh the risk for some people.

Home Remedies For Diabetes and Prediabetes

1. Fiber, especially soluble fiber powder 5 to 15 milligrams a day (10 milligrams on average if taking psyllium)

Anyone concerned about diabetes should get the recommended daily amount of fiber per day (20 to 30 grams) primarily from foods that contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber pills are mostly a waste of money, but fiber powders and some bars can help you reach your target (I don’t recommend getting more than 5 to 15 milligrams per day in this form).

Fiber slows gastric emptying and delays the absorption of nutrients, so it helps promote insulin sensitivity and control or reduce glucose spikes. It could also help with weight loss, so it’s a cornerstone of diabetes prevention and treatment. Many soluble fibers have been researched for controlling blood sugar in prediabetes and diabetes, including psyllium (the most researched), beta-glucan, guar gum, and even glucomannan.

2. Chromium picolinate 600 micrograms a day and biotin 2 milligrams a day

These two in combination can improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate carbohydrate metabolism along with conventional medicines for better glucose and cholesterol control in type 2 diabetes. There have been many fairly well- done clinical trials in this area, and the commercial product Diachrome was one of the first to show positive results when used along with conventional drugs. The research has been impressive, especially in people with higher hemoglobin A1c levels, meaning they’re having a hard time controlling or reducing blood

sugars. Why more “experts” don’t pay attention to this research and implement it is beyond me. Chromium picolinate by itself in doses of 200 to 1,000 micrograms (1 milligram) per day—or a similar dosage of chromium from a brewer’s yeast source—could have a mild benefit. Chromium has no impact on prediabetes.

Note: These next two supplements are for a common symptom or consequence of diabetes called diabetic peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy. It’s a result of nerve damage caused by high blood sugar, and it happens in the hands and feet. These aren’t for glucose control or treatment.

3. (tie) Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) 600 milligrams a day for the prevention and treatment of peripheral neuropathy and 1,800 milligrams a day for weight loss (600 milligrams approximately 30 minutes before each meal)

Alpha-lipoic acid (a.k.a. thioctic acid) is used as an IV and oral prescription drug around the world to help prevent and treat some symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, but in other countries, like the United States, it’s a dietary supplement. Researchers believe it works like a far less potent version of metformin, activating a pathway called AMPK that can increase metabolism (see the Weight Loss section). Many supplement companies advertise that the R- form, or more expensive form of ALA, is absorbed better, which is true, but the lower cost R/S-form has been used in some of the best clinical trials, including for weight loss.

Distal symmetric sensorimotor polyneuropathy (DSPN), a type of peripheral neuropathy, impacts one-third of people with diabetes, and it can reduce quality of life and increase the risk of death. The NATHAN (Neurological Assessment of Thioctic Acid in Diabetic Neuropathy) trial—which was done in 36 centers in Canada, Europe, and the United States—found ALA may slow the progression of DSPN. Researchers discovered that 600 milligrams of ALA daily moderately improved small nerve fiber and muscular function.

In a well-done clinical trial in Korea, researchers compared 1,800 milligrams per day (600 milligrams before each meal) of ALA with a placebo over 5 months. The ALA group had significant weight loss (one-third of the participants had type 2 diabetes). All of the participants (ALA and placebo) also followed a 1,200-calorie-perday flexible diet plan.

The average weight loss in the ALA group was around 4.5 to 5 pounds greater than the placebo group, but approximately 23 percent of the subjects lost 5 percent or more of their body weight (versus 10 percent of the subjects in the placebo group). Note: ALA can cause a harmless malodorous urine smell (like asparagus does) and rash and itching, and it can lower glucose substantially in really rare situations.

4. (tie) Capsaicin cream (0.075 percent) applied up to four times a day for diabetic peripheral neuropathy

Capsaicin (the hot active ingredient in hot chile peppers) works by reducing levels of a compound in the body called substance P, which effectively interrupts transmission of pain. When used at a concentration of 0.075 percent up to four times a day, it can provide relief for some individuals who have pain near the surface of the skin (versus deep bone pain), so try it for at least a week or two.

However, you should always use gloves and a cotton swab because if you get capsaicin on your fingers and into your eye, the burning sensation can be quite painful (and potentially harmful). When applying to your feet, always put on socks afterward so you don’t risk transferring the capsaicin to other surfaces that might somehow come in contact with your (or a loved one’s) eye.

I love that the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, the American Academy of Neurology, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation recommend capsaicin at 0.075 percent for diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Ahhh, another supplement moves into mainstream medicine.

You can ask your doctor about even higher concentrations of capsaicin (up to 8 percent) that are being tested in clinical trials now. It could work better, but it’s only available through a prescription in the form of a patch (it’s called Qutenza).

Currently, the 8 percent capsaicin patch is being used for shingles with good results, but there is good reason to believe it works with other forms of neuropathic pain, depending on the individual. Side effects have been low, but the prescription can cause a rapid change in blood pressure at first. (Never combine capsaicin with anything else that can heat the skin, such as a heating pad, because this combined effect can burn or otherwise damage the skin.)

Oral capsaicin dietary supplements are starting to be researched for a variety of conditions, but I don’t think they will garner evidence in the area of peripheral neuropathy anytime soon, plus, as you would imagine, oral capsaicin can be really harsh on the gastrointestinal tract. If you want more capsaicin, order hot peppers on your next veggie burger.

5. Berberine

Berberine can be found in many plants, and it has preliminary data as an antimicrobial agent. It appears to increase insulin receptors and sensitivity and may impact one of the pathways that the drug metformin affects (5’-AMP- activated protein kinase, the body’s metabolic master switch).

Researchers have used 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams per day with some conventional medicines, such as metformin, to lower blood glucose and potentially improve cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes, but a large, well-done trial is still needed before we get too excited about it.

6. Cinnamon

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) extract contains cinnamaldehyde, the active ingredient in cinnamon, and it can improve insulin sensitivity.

Dosages of 120 to 6,000 milligrams per day have been used in at least 10 clinical trials lasting from 4 to 18 weeks, and though it appears to reduce glucose and even some cholesterol levels, it has had minimal impact on the hemoglobin A1c blood test. The biggest problem with many of the trials is that they have had a high risk of bias. The most common cinnamon extract dosage is 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day, and it has an excellent safety record. Keep in mind that metformin can lower glucose twice as well as cinnamon, though, and it’s inexpensive.

7. Magnesium

Magnesium—which can be found in squash, pumpkin, watermelon, flaxseed, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, and Brazil nuts— may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.

However, since many of these foods also contain fiber (and vice versa), researchers aren’t sure whether it’s the fiber or the magnesium that’s responsible for the benefits. Still, most of the research on magnesium is for the prevention of diabetes, not treatment. Several studies of magnesium supplements—for example, 365 milligrams per day of magnesium aspartate hydrochloride—improved insulin sensitivity in overweight individuals at risk for type 2 diabetes.

8. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is overhyped for everything, but there’s one area that shows promise and needs more intense study. Children who currently have normal D levels and whose mothers had normal D levels when pregnant with them appear to have a lower risk of getting type 1 diabetes. Vita-min D plays a role in immune surveillance and improving immune function, and since type 1 diabetes is really an autoimmune disease, D may have a role in preventing the body from attacking the cells of the pancreas that produce and secrete insulin.

What Supplements Are Useless For Treating Diabetes and Prediabetes?

L-cysteine, gurmar, and resveratrol

An amino acid, L-cysteine gets a lot of hype as a potential diabetic agent, but in reality, apart from the amount found in whey protein powder, which can be beneficial, there is little research to support its use. I feel the same way about Gymnema sylvestre (also known as gurmar, which means “sugar destroyer” in Hindi). The clinical studies are weak, and the isolated reports of liver inflammation and problems with standardization or identifying a true active ingredient only make me more skeptical (not just for diabetes, but weight loss, too).

When it comes to resveratrol, it’s all hype and no substance. We need more consistent clinical data before I recommend spending any money on this supplement made from the skin of grapes.

Ginseng

It can lower blood sugar, especially American ginseng, but the results have been inconsistent, probably because standardization of the active ingredients, called ginsenosides, is all over the place. Panax ginseng has been shown to have weak glucose-lowering effects. Basically, I see no role for ginseng currently in prediabetes or diabetes to reduce glucose or hemoglobin A1c.

High doses of B vitamins

We used to think B vitamins could protect the kidneys, but recent research suggests they can harm kidney function and do not lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, they may increase it. A typical multivitamin contains 400 micrograms of folic acid, 6 micrograms of B12, and 2 milligrams of B6. In the latest megadose studies, individuals were taking 2,500

micrograms of folic acid, 1,000 micrograms of B12, and 25 milligrams of B6! So

be careful and avoid B-complex multis, too, because people with diabetes have a high risk of kidney problems.

What Lifestyle Changes Can Help With Diabetes and Prediabetes?

Heart healthy = blood sugar healthy! 

The leading killer of people with diabetes is cardiovascular disease (CVD). More than 80 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, and doctors now treat patients with diabetes similarly to patients who have already had a heart attack. In other words, they try to aggressively reduce CVD risk factors, which has worked brilliantly. It’s one reason many people with diabetes now can live as long as people without the disease.

Add flaxseed

Getting 10 to 30 grams of flaxseed powder in your diet daily— sprinkle it on oatmeal, bake with it, and more—provides a good, cheap source of fiber. Chia seed powder is another great source (it has as much fiber as flaxseed).

Get more caffeine

It appears to improve insulin sensitivity and is being studied as a way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve liver function. Moderate daily amounts—what you’d find in one to two 8-ounce cups of coffee —have the most research, but even smaller amounts—like what you’d find in many teas—may also be beneficial. In the largest review of clinical studies looking at caffeine and diabetes to date, the reduction in risk was significant and appeared to be even greater in those who didn’t smoke and were not overweight.

Coffee and caffeine both have anti-inflammatory properties that can improve metabolism enough to reduce the chances of becoming insulin resistant. I think they could even help keep type 2 diabetes from getting worse.

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