Diabetes mellitus, often referred as diabetes, is a metabolic disease in which the body does not produce enough or respond normally to insulin, causing blood glucose levels to be abnormally high. The process of digestion involves the breaking down of food into various nutrient molecules. When carbohydrate is consumed, our body breaks it down into smaller glucose units readily absorbed by intestines. When glucose travels into bloodstream, it needs a transport protein to get into its final destination where it is needed, which is inside the mitochondria in our cells. This transport protein is insulin. The hormone insulin moves sugar from the blood into cells to be stored or used for energy or fuel. This disease results in a buildup of extra sugar in the bloodstream, giving rise to serious consequences, bringing damage to organs and tissues – including heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
There are two underlying causes for diabetes. It is either the pancreas does not manufacture enough insulin, or the insulin produced is sufficient but the body’s cells do not respond to it. Here in this article we will discuss about the health supplements that help to control blood glucose levels by either stimulating production of insulin/ insulin sensitivity, or slowing the absorption of glucose, thereby reducing the likelihood of blood sugar spike and keeping the blood sugar level stable.
Sensitize and Stimulate Insulin Activity/ Production
In diabetic patients, the body’s cells do not allow insulin to work as it should to let glucose enter into its cells. In this scenario, the body's cells have become resistant to insulin. Pancreas cannot keep up and make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Glucose levels therefore rise in the bloodstream.
The supplements mentioned below help to sensitize insulin so it could go on and function as it should, and/or stimulate insulin production.
Royal jelly exhibits an insulin-like activity1—an insulin-like protein molecule had been extracted from royal jelly and it is physiologically similar to insulin of vertebrates in terms of solubility, chromatographic, immunological, and biological characteristics. Healthy adults who consumed a single high oral dose of royal jelly immediately before oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) demonstrated significantly lowered glucose level1.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) increased insulin-mediated glucose transport by 65%, provoked a 26% upsurge in insulin-stimulated glycogen synthesis and a 33% enhancement of insulin-stimulated glucose oxidation2. Scientists believe that alpha lipoic acid helps to lower blood sugar by promoting processes that can remove fat that has accumulated in muscle cells, which otherwise desensitize insulin3.
ALA is a valuable therapeutic option for diabetic neuropathy. When evaluated with currently licensed analgesic drugs, ALA is better tolerated, has a more rapid onset of action, and enhances paraesthesiae, numbness, sensory deficits, and muscle strength in addition to neuropathic pain4. In clinical practice, ALA may be preferred in patients with early neuropathic deficits and symptoms, in whom clinical improvement is more likely4. ALA should also be considered when comorbidities render other analgesics less appropriate or in the presence of cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy4.
The plant has reported being effective in improving the lipid profile and blood glucose level of type II diabetic patients by lowering the LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol), triglycerides, and fasting and post prandial blood glucose levels5. Moringa oleifera leaves powder in the diet reduces blood sugar with concomitant improvement in glucose tolerance and diabetic symptoms5.
One small study showed that taking 1.5 teaspoons of moringa leaf powder every day for three months reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5%, on average6.
Green Tea Extract (50% EGCG) supplies numerous bioactive compounds, including Polyphenols and Catechins, that are known to protect against oxidative stress, aid weight loss and supply energy for better sports/tasks performance. Laboratory studies have suggested that EGCG may have improved glucose control and better insulin activity. In a retrospective cohort study conducted in Japan, a 33% risk reduction of developing type 2 diabetes was observed in people consuming six or more cups of green tea daily compared to those consuming less than 1 cup per week7.
Slow Carbohydrate Absorption
The digestion process breaks down carbohydrate into tiny glucose subunits bringing about the upsurge of blood glucose level. Uncontrolled long term sugar rush can cause diabetes complications.
The supplements mentioned below lower the blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which food moves through our gut and is absorbed gradually.
Irvingia gabonensis seeds delay stomach emptying, leading to a more progressive absorption of dietary sugar8. This effect can reduce the elevation of blood sugar levels that is common after a meal.
The effect of beta-glucans to reduce blood glucose could be mediated possibly by delaying stomach emptying so that dietary glucose is absorbed more steadily9,10. Because it is a soluble fiber, beta glucan slows down food transit in the intestines. This means that it takes longer for the body to digest food. Slower digestion means the body does not take in sugar as quickly, reducing the likelihood of blood sugar spikes and helping keep blood sugar levels stable10.
Inulin slows digestion, including the digestion of carbohydrates. This ensures sugar to be released slowly without spiking, which promotes healthy blood sugar levels.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they found that supplementation with inulin helped to lower fasting blood sugar, reduce fasting insulin, and improve good (HDL) cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes11.
A 2015 study revealed that inulin might benefit people with prediabetes. It can act as a potential blood sugar stabilizer when present in the diet over a long period of time12. Inulin was associated with a significant increase in (0-30 min) incremental AUC (iAUC) for insulin and (0-60 min) iAUC for insulin compared to control12.
Fenugreek appears to slow absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin. Both of these effects lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Studies have shown that fenugreek supplements can reduce blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c — a marker of long-term blood sugar control — in people with diabetes12. During the study period, monthly fasting blood glucose levels and HbA1C levels were assessed. At 5th month, the fasting sugar in the study group was 146 ± 25.80 while it was 155.65 ± 24.84 in control group. In the 6th month, HbA1C of the study group is 5.78 ± 1.56 and that of the control group is 6.96 ± 2.0213.
A healthy diet, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are the first, and often of the times, most important part of diabetes remedy. Synergized with the supplements to help keep blood sugar at bay as mentioned here, we can improve the management of diabetes and its complications for people living with it. However, supplements should not be used to replace standard diabetes treatment and please always talk to your doctor.
- Kunugi H, Ali AM. Royal jelly and its components promote healthy aging and longevity: from animal models to humans. International Journal of Molecular Science. 2019; 20(4662):1-26.
- Streeper RS, Henriksen EJ, Jacob S, Hokama JY, Fogt DL, Tritschler HJ. Differential effects of lipoic acid stereoisomers on glucose metabolism in insulin-resistant skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul; 273(1 Pt 1): E185-91.
- Akbari M, Ostadmohammadi V, Lankarani KB, Tabrizi R, Kolahdooz F, Khatibi SR, Asemi Z. The effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation on glucose control and lipid profiles among patients with metabolic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Metabolism. 2018 Oct; 87:56-69.
- Papanas N, Ziegler D. Efficacy of α-lipoic acid in diabetic neuropathy. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2014 Dec; 15(18): 2721-31.
- Kumari J. Hypoglycaemic effect of moringa oleifera and azadirachta indica in type 2 diabetes mellitus. An International Quartery Journal of Life Sciences. 2010; 5(2): 211-214.
- Kushwaha S, Chawla P, Kochhar A. Effect of supplementation of drumstick (Moringa oleifera) and amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor) leaves powder on antioxidant profile and oxidative status among postmenopausal women. Journal of Food Science and Technology volume 51, pages 3464–3469 (2014).
- Iso H, Date C, Wakai K, Fukui M, Tamakoshi A JACC Study Group. The relationship between green tea and total caffeine intake and risk for self-reported type 2 diabetes among Japanese adults. Ann Intern Med. 2006; 144:554–562.
- Ngondi JL, Oben JE, Minka SR. The effect of Irvingia gabonensis seeds on body weight and blood lipids of obese subjects in Cameroon. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2005; 4:12.
- Kiho T, Morimoto H, Sakushima M, Usui S, Ukai S. Polysaccharides in fungi. XXXV. Anti diabetic activity of an acidic polysaccharide from the fruiting bodies of Tremella aurantia. Biol Pharm Bull. 1995 Dec; 18(12): 1627-9.
- Chen J, Raymond K. Beta-glucans in the treatment of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risks. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2008 Dec; 4(6): 1265–1272.
- Liu F, Prabhakar M, Ju J, Long H, Zhou HW. Effect of inulin-type fructans on blood lipid profile and glucose level: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017 volume 71, pages 9–20.
- Guess ND, Dornhorst A, Oliver N, Frost GS. A Randomised Crossover Trial: The Effect of Inulin on Glucose Homeostasis in Subtypes of Prediabetes. Ann Nutr Metab. 2016; 68(1): 26-34.
- Ranade M, Mudgalkar N. A simple dietary addition of fenugreek seed leads to the reduction in blood glucose levels: A parallel group, randomized single-blind trial. Ayu. 2017 Jan-Jun; 38(1-2): 24–27.