In November, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed once again just how out of touch they all are…
The agency issued a blanket statement that “there is not enough evidence to suggest that any dietary supplement can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.”[i]
This conclusion is more than a little ironic. Especially coming from an organization whose mission is “to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and alternative medicine interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.”
And this new proclamation would be laughable—if it weren’t for the confusion it will undoubtedly cause well-intentioned health practitioners.
Not to mention the damage it will cause diabetic patients. Who will miss out on the real and necessary health benefits supplements can provide.
Of course, this misguided statement is just the latest example of the reductionist, over-simplified perspective we have come to expect from the government. But it’s not just misinformed. It’s also dead wrong.
And downright dangerous.
The nutrient still desperately needed by 40 percent of diabetes patients
Just look at the outright dismissal of magnesium.
According to the November 2013 edition of the NCCAM’s online Clinical Digest, “There is no evidence… that magnesium is beneficial in managing diabetes in the absence of magnesium deficiency.”
Sounds simple enough. Except nearly 40 percent of people with diabetes DO have magnesium deficiency!
And even diabetics who aren’t clinically deficient can benefit from magnesium.
One clinical trial found magnesium improved blood glucose and insulin resistance.[ii] Another study found low magnesium levels increase risk of depression in diabetics.[iii] And, most importantly: When people with diabetes are critically ill, they’re more likely to die if they have low magnesium levels.[iv]
So how can the NCCAM just ignore all these benefits? Simple: They take a drug research approach to dietary supplements.
The type of research we need can only be done by clinicians trained in nutritional biochemistry, dietary assessment, and clinical nutrition therapy. And unfortunately you won’t find such real experts in our government health agencies.
Which means countless natural therapies that show promise for diabetes aren’t being used as effectively as they should be.
I’ll tell you more about all of those below. But first let me explain why a truly integrative approach to diabetes is so important.
What an “integrative approach” really means
By now you’re probably used to the “natural know-it-alls” who refuse to ever consider drug therapy, no matter what the circumstances. If you ask me, these practitioners’ blinders are just as big as the government’s. And just as dangerous.
I choose to embrace true integrative/complementary medicine.
Instead of relying on one modality, I embrace all of them. Lifestyle, diet, nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, mind-body therapies, and, when appropriate, even pharmaceutical drugs.
All the recommendations I make are based upon the scientific knowledge and medical experience I’ve garnered over the years. And sometimes the natural approaches I recommend actually go hand-in-hand with drugs.
In fact, that’s what the term “complementary” is really supposed to mean! Using natural therapies in conjunction with mainstream drugs and procedures. To help enhance their potential. Or to offset any toxic side effects.
Sadly, this potential is often ignored by mainstream medicine.
But when it comes to managing diabetes, an integrative approach is absolutely essential. The stakes are just too high.
Diabetes is a primary risk factor for a number of chronic disabling conditions. Heart disease, stroke, circulatory disorders, kidney disease, and eye disease—just to name a few. And of course, diabetes itself can wreak havoc on your health on a daily basis.
It’s also an increasingly common problem. The reasons why are a topic of hot debate. But it’s safe to say our modern diet, poor beverage choices, sedentary lifestyle, and the misinformation handed out by the government-industrial-medical complex over the past several decades have stacked the deck against us.
So it’s critical to approach diabetes from all available, effective avenues.
The good news is, there ARE effective treatments. And the cornerstone of my integrative approach for managing diabetes is metformin.
This popular diabetes “drug” is actually derived from a traditional herbal remedy—French lilac. And unlike a lot of pharmaceuticals, metformin is safe and effective. In fact, its one major “side effect” is that it lowers the risk of dangerous cancers. It’s also the only diabetes drug that has been shown to reduce all the long-term complications of diabetes.
So metformin is truly the best of both worlds. It’s an effective natural remedy available as a pharmaceutical grade treatment. And it has many additional benefits. Plus, it has been around long enough now that it is available as a generic. Which means low cost and a proven safety profile.
But metformin certainly isn’t the ONLY thing diabetics need.
I mentioned the benefits of magnesium above. And how a startling number of diabetics have low levels of this essential nutrient. So it should certainly be added to your daily regimen. But there are also a dozen more nutritional supplements no diabetes protocol should be without…
The nutritional side of diabetes
The NCCAM’s dismissal of supplements for diabetes does more than just miss the boat. It also belies the agency’s fundamental lack of understanding of human metabolism and nutrition in general terms.
In diabetes, your body is literally “starving in a sea of plenty.” Blood sugar is high. But that sugar can’t get into the tissue cells that need it.
Metformin is great for getting blood sugar into those cells. But we know certain nutritional approaches can help nourish cells further.
Getting sugar into the cells is critical so they can make their own energy and generate their own hydration. This process is supported by coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is even more important for diabetics taking statin drugs because statins reduce levels of this nutrient in the body. In fact, many of the well-known side effects of statins may result from this CoQ10 depletion. (For more info on recovering from the effects of statins, read my Statin drug recovery plan in the November 2013 issue of Insiders’ Cures.) A good general dose of CoQ10 is 50 mg daily. Preferably in the form of ubiquinol, which is more readily absorbed.But people on statins or recovering from statin poisoning may need 100 to 200 mg per day.
Another key player in cellular hydration is red bush, or rooibos, (400 mg/day). This herb from South Africa helps stimulate the cells to generate energy and hydration. And new research shows red bush can do even more to help with diabetes. It helps lower blood sugar and supports getting sugar into the muscle tissues. (Click here to read some other exciting new research on red bush.)
Sutherlandia frutescens (400–500 mg/day) is another herb from South Africa. As an adaptogen, it helps support all the body’s metabolic functions. Including blood sugar metabolism.
Blood circulation also needs to be a target of any diabetes treatment plan. It’s especially critical to ensure proper blood flow to the central nervous system and eyes. In diabetics, the blood vessels that supply these essential areas can be damaged. To help prevent that damage, look for nutrients that can cross the blood-brain barrier, such as the carotenoid lutein (5–15 mg/day) and herbs like berberine (300–400 mg/day). Berberine has the added benefit of lowering blood sugar—a double benefit for diabetics.
In all metabolic disorders, including diabetes, it’s important to provide the body optimal nourishment. That means following a healthy diet. And getting enough of vitamins A (15,000 IU), Bs (9 mcg B12, 3 mg B6, 1-5 mg folic acid), C (2,000 mg), D (5,000 IU) and E (100 IU).
In addition to magnesium, two other minerals are essential for supporting cellular metabolism in diabetics: selenium and chromium. And remember, you can’t get optimal levels of these nutrients by following the RDAs alone. For selenium, 50 mcg per day is a good general dose. The chromium doses used in clinical studies vary. For diabetes, the daily amount ranges from 200-1,000 mcg, split into two or three doses. (Never exceed 1,000 mcg per day.)
You won’t see mainstream medicine recommending this plan
Unfortunately, the government “experts” are still intent on dismissing natural supplements. But the good news is, we don’t need to wait for them to remove their blinders.
With this comprehensive guide, you finally have a truly integrative approach to diabetes management.
Yes, metformin is an indispensable part of any diabetes protocol. In a sea of modern pharmaceutical disasters of Titanic proportions, metformin is an effective, affordable drug. And it remains the cornerstone of my diabetes treatment plan. But it’s even better when combined with the nutrients I’ve just described. Not to mention the helpful herbs I list below.
Herbs for diabetes
Many herbal remedies could be excellent candidates for natural management of diabetes. Unfortunately, the necessary research hasn’t been carried out to develop real-world clinical protocols. So we have limited information to go on.
But the research that is available points to a number of different ways herbal remedies may work. They may directly drive blood sugar into tissues, stimulate insulin production, and/or block formation of sugar in the first place.
Here are some of the most promising herbs for diabetes.
- Aloe vera gel has a number of effects that may help people with diabetes. In a recent study, it helped obese people with early-stage diabetes or prediabetes lose weight and reduce insulin resistance.[v]
- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) may improve hyperglycemia and obesity associated with diabetes.[vi]
- Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) may improve glucose tolerance, reduce serum insulin levels, and promote weight loss.[vii]
- Bilberry (huckleberry) contains potent antioxidants. It has been shown to protect against damage to the eye’s retina—one of the most devastating side effects of diabetes.[viii] Animal studies have shown it also lowers blood sugar and improves insulin resistance.[ix]
- Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is sometimes called “vegetable insulin.” It contains at least three compounds that appear to help regulate blood sugar.[x] It is a common remedy in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- Cinnamon bark, as we reported in December, lowers blood glucose in people with Type II diabetes.[xi]
- Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, may have a number of antidiabetic properties. Research suggests it improves insulin resistance, reduces body fat, and prevents or reduces diabetic retinopathy.[xii],[xiii]
- Fenugreek seeds help stimulate insulin in the presence of high glucose levels. A recent, comprehensive review of published studies found fenugreek has a beneficial effect on glycemic control in people with diabetes.[xiv]
- Gymnema sylvestre is known as gurmar in Ayurvedic medicine, which means “destroyer of sugar.” Research shows extracts from this tropical plant reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes.[xv]
As I said, there’s simply not enough research on any of these herbs yet for me to feel confident making general recommendations about dosage to control diabetes. Dosages should be determined on an individual basis, according to your particular needs.
So if you are interested in adding any of the above to your integrative diabetes protocol, you should work closely with a practitioner skilled in nutritional medicine who can help determine the ideal doses for you. The American College for Advancement in Medicine (800-532-3688; www.acam.org) can help you find such a practitioner in your area.
[i] “Type 2 diabetes and dietary supplements,” NCCAM Clinical Digest. 2013 Nov.
[ii] “Oral magnesium supplementation reduces insulin resistance in non-diabetic subjects – a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial,” Diabetes Obes Metab. 2011;13(3):281-284.
[iii] “Depressive symptoms and hypomagnesemia in older diabetic subjects,” Arch Med Res. 2007;38(7):752-756.
[iv] “Hypomagnesemia and mortality in patients with type 2 diabetes,” Magnes Res. 2008;21(3):163-166.
[v] “Metabolic effects of aloe vera gel complex in obese prediabetes and early non-treated diabetic patients: randomized controlled trial,” Nutrition. 2013;29(9):1110-1114.
[vi] “Effects of American ginseng berry extract on blood glucose levels in ob/ob mice,” Am J Chin Med. 2002;30(2-3):187-194.
[vii] “Antidiabetic effects of Panax ginseng berry extract and the identification of an effective component,” Diabetes. 2002;51(6):1851-1858.
[viii] “Bilberry and its main constituents have neuroprotective effects against retinal neuronal damage in vitro and in vivo,” Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009;53(7):869-877.
[ix] “Dietary anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract ameliorates hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity via activation of AMP-activated protein kinase in diabetic mice,” J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):527-533.
[x] “Comprehensive evaluation of anti-hyperglycemic activity of fractionated Momordica charantia seed extract in alloxan-induced diabetic rats,” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:293650.
[xi] “Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis,” Ann Fam Med. 2013;11(5):452-459.
[xii] “Reduction of atherogenic risk in patients with type 2 diabetes by curcuminoid extract: a randomized controlled trial,” J Nutr Biochem 2014 Feb;25(2):144-50.
[xiii] “Therapeutic implications of curcumin in the prevention of diabetic retinopathy via modulation of anti-oxidant activity and genetic pathways,” Int J Physiol Pathophysiol Pharmacol. 2013;5(4):194-202.
[xiv] “Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) intake on glycemia: a meta-analysis of clinical trials,” Nutr J. 2014;13(1):7.
[xv] “An open label study on the supplementation of Gymnema sylvestre in type 2 diabetics,” J Diet Suppl. 2010 Sep;7(3):273-282.