How did it go over Thanksgiving weekend? Did you overeat a little? Hey, it’s a holiday… no one can blame you for not following the glycemic load chart too closely.
If you didn’t pay too much attention to your blood sugar, here are some herbs and minerals I use in my practice that naturally improve your body’s response to insulin. They’re completely safe and keep your blood sugar in check.
These are my favorite nutrients you can use right away to help control your blood sugar:
Gymnema Sylvestre: For more than 2,000 years, people in India have used the herb gymnema sylvestre to help control blood sugar. In fact, the leaves of this climbing plant are prized by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine, the holistic system of healing.
The herb is also called “gumar,” which literally means “destroyer of sugar” in Hindi. This name describes the way that chewing the leaves interferes with your ability to taste sweetness. Because this amazing herb decreases the sensation of sweetness in many foods, it may reduce your cravings for sugary snacks.
In one study, patients who took 400 mg of gymnema sylvestre extract daily for 18 to 20 months along with their oral medications showed a significant reduction in their fasting blood-sugar levels.(1)
Chromium: Another weapon in nature’s arsenal of sugar fighters is the mineral chromium. Chromium aids in digestion and helps move blood glucose from the bloodstream into the cells for energy. It also helps turn fats, carbohydrates and proteins into energy.
What’s more, chromium is critical for healthy insulin function. Without enough chromium in your body, insulin just doesn’t work properly.
Chromium exists in many foods including brewer’s yeast, meats, potatoes (especially in the skin), cheeses, molasses, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Despite the wide availability of chromium from food sources, research shows that 90 percent of American adults have a chromium-deficient diet. This could be a key reason why an increasing number of Americans suffer blood-sugar problems.
Cinnamon: Recent scientific discoveries prove that this commonly used spice helps regulate blood sugar in ways previously unknown.
Scientists at the Maryland-based Human Nutrition Research Center were studying the effects of common foods on blood sugar. They found that when patients ate apple pie, their blood-sugar levels actually improved.
Further investigation revealed it was the cinnamon in the apple pie that helped their blood-sugar levels. Researchers discovered that cinnamon increases your glucose metabolism. It contains a compound called methylhydroxy chalcone polymer, or MHCP for short, that works with insulin to help process glucose.
In fact, a laboratory test conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed MHCP increased glucose metabolism by roughly 20 times.
People who control their blood sugar with cinnamon use around half a teaspoon before meals.
Banaba Leaf Extract: Traditionally, people living in the Philippines, South Asia and India have brewed a banaba leaf tea to help regulate blood sugar.
Medical scientists believe that banaba leaf’s beneficial effects on blood sugar are due to its high concentration of corosolic acid, a natural compound extracted from its leaves. Corosolic acid mimics insulin by moving sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells. And numerous scientific studies have proven banaba leaf’s effectiveness.
In another study, patients with blood-sugar concerns took a supplement containing banaba leaf or a placebo three times a day for four weeks. The placebo group had no change, but the banaba-leaf group achieved very good results for blood-sugar balancing.(2)
A dose of no more than 50 mg of banaba leaf extract with 1-2 percent corosolic acid will help you control your blood sugar.
Fenugreek: Fenugreek is an herb native to the Mediterranean, Ukraine, India and China.
Practitioners of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have used the herb for more than 2,000 years. Modern scientists now know fenugreek helps balance your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose.
Fenugreek seed stimulates insulin release. This helps food sugars reach your cells properly. A well-known study published in the British Medical Journal divided patients with blood-sugar concerns into two groups. Group one received one gram of fenugreek seed extract and group two received a combination of dietary control, exercise and a placebo capsule for two months.
Group one saw more positive results for blood sugar, insulin resistance, cholesterol and triglycerides compared to group two.(3)
And, three more studies confirm that fenugreek seed extract helps stabilize blood sugar in patients with blood sugar and insulin problems.
You don’t want to bite into a fenugreek seed, as they are also very bitter. But if you roast them in a pan for a minute or two, without burning them, they’ll taste a bit caramel-like. Then you can add them to other spices for a complex mix of flavor.
You can also make a tea with dried fenugreek leaves by steeping one or two teaspoons of the leaves in two cups of boiling water for five minutes.
Bitter Melon: Although it may be unknown to most people in the West, bitter melon has long been used in South America, the Caribbean, East Africa and Asia as food and a natural medicine. And scientific studies prove its value for treating blood-sugar problems.
For example, two studies show bitter melon could play a key role in helping to balance insulin in your body, which, of course, means healthy blood-sugar control.(4,5) And another study showed bitter melon had positive effects on the serum glucose levels of those taking it, following both fasting and eating.
Bitter melon is often used in stir-fry dishes. Cut the melon open lengthwise without peeling. Then remove the seeds and the white “pith” inside, and chop it like you would a green pepper. Boil the melon until the pieces are tender, and add them to your favorite stir-fry recipe.
1 Baskaran, K., et al, J. Ethnopharmacology 1990; 30(3):295-305
2 Ikeda, Y. “The clinical study on water extract of leaves of Langerstroemia Specious L. for mild cases of diabetes mellitus,” 1998 (unpublished)
3 Sahelian, R., Report on study conducted at the Jaipur Diabetes and Research Centre in India
4 Leatherdale, B.A., et al, Br. Med J (Clin Res Ed), June 1981:282 (6279):1823-24
5 Welihinda J, et al, J. Ethnopharmacology Sept 1986: 17(3): 277-82
Dr. Al Sears is fast becoming the nation's leading authority on longevity and heart health. His cutting edge breakthroughs and commanding knowledge of alternative medicine have been transforming the lives of his patients for over 15 years.
Dr. Sears currently owns and operates a successful integrative medicine and anti-aging clinic in Wellington, Florida with over 15,000 patients. Over the course of his career, he has developed his own approach to heart health, longevity and anti-aging medicine - combining the best of modern medical science with natural holistic techniques and treatments.