Dr. Eric Wood, ND, MA
Nowadays, many individuals are struggling with blood sugar problems. This is for many reasons — too many processed carbohydrates consumed, too little activity, mitochondrial and cellular damage, too little sleep, poor insulin regulation and more. Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle lived by many today is the exact OPPOSITE of what we, as doctors, might prescribe to support a healthy weight and good blood sugar regulation.
So, given all that, there is much room for improvement for many people when it comes to regulating blood sugar. In this article, I will review some of the more research-substantiated ways and novel types of supplements we can utilize to help improve and stabilize blood sugar, and address related issues such as insulin sensitivity, visceral body fat accumulation, elevated blood lipids and more. Of course, these will work even better when someone improves other facets of their lifestyle also.
A well-known insulin-sensitizing agent, this trace mineral has become commonly deficient in the modern, overly processed diet. Thus, many individuals are commonly low in their chromium stores, negatively influencing their ability to naturally regulate insulin and sugar levels. Clinical research has shown that this nutrient is essential for fat and carbohydrate processing and when supplemented, it has been shown to improve HbA1c levels and lower triglyceride levels(1).
One of the less familiar supplements in this realm to many, Gynostemma is a plant native to Eastern Asia and is a member of the gourd family. Clinical research has shown it to be beneficial in improving insulin sensitivity, lowering fasting glucose and even enhancing immune function(2,3). Moreover, it can further improve the effectiveness of prescribed anti-diabetic medications by enhancing insulin sensitivity, activating the AMPK enzymes (similar to Metformin) and also supporting healthy liver function, which can be a concern with some such medications(4).
Perhaps one of the best-tasting and best-known extracts on this list, cinnamon, yields some powerfully strong benefits as it pertains to blood sugar and insulin control. Research has shown that both the extract, as well as the raw spice formulas, can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. The dosing substantially varies, however, with the extract requiring considerably less dosage (360 mg vs. 1-6 g of the raw spice)(5).
Also known as African Mango, this fruit extract has shown a number of remarkable benefits when it comes to improving many metabolic parameters associated with elevated blood sugar and diabetes. These include: Fasting blood sugar, lipid levels, cholesterol levels, facilitating improved weight loss and body fat loss, and digestive hormone levels of adiponectin and leptin in clinical studies(12). Relatively small amounts, 150 mg twice daily, have been shown to exert significant improvements on metrics such as body weight, body fat and waist circumference.
Another popular food coming from Asia, this well-known beverage has been shown to positively influence blood sugar and insulin levels and bolster insulin sensitivity. Perhaps even more salient though is its ability to improve mitochondrial function, which drives healthy metabolism, glucose regulation and energy levels, all of which ultimately impact glucose levels (6). Green tea’s benefits don’t just stop there, however. Besides being chemopreventive and a rich source of antioxidants, green tea extract has been shown to improve triglyceride and HDL levels while further aiding in regulating post-meal glucose spikes(7).
Known traditionally in herbal medicine for its considerableeye health benefits, bilberry extract can also be a highly useful aide in improving blood sugar and insulin sensitivity by means of activating something called AMPK in the cell, which is a sort of energy enzyme sensor in the cell. Bilberry also positively impacts inflammation in the body, something that is typically out of control in most diabetics but also in a large swath of the general population(8). Another more unique element of its protection for those struggling with high blood sugar may relate to its anti-glycation shielding effects, which can protect the eyes and vision from cataract development or in extreme cases, diabetic-related blindness. Bilberry is closely related to the blueberry and can be consumed as a berry, tea or supplement.
The benefits of this coffee bean extract increasingly seem to be tied to its content of something called chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce visceral fat accumulation in clinical studies while also improving insulin sensitization and activating AMPK, which bolsters glucose utilization and fat burning(9). The key with this extract is that it comes from a GREEN coffee bean extract, as roasting beans typically damages them and reduces the content of chlorogenic acid (10).
One of the best-known nutrients in this list to many, that awareness unfortunately hasn’t translated into most individuals having adequate dietary intakes. Believed to influence nearly 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, magnesium is a must for proper carbohydrate dietary processing. Moreover, it helps to support neurological balance and muscle relaxation by helping to balance the parasympathetic nervous system in our overly stressed lives. Low levels are correlated with insulin resistance in research studies whereas higher magnesium stores support more optimalHbA1c levels (11). Magnesium in research has also shown to lower glucose and blood lipid levels, making this micromineral more important than ever to curb the modern lifestyle plagues of diabetes and metabolic syndrome(13,14).
A common find in more traditional Asian diets, research is beginning to yield some impressive results with this extract related to its blood sugar effects. Studies show considerable potential benefit in mitigating blood meal blood sugar spikes as well as post-meal insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity(15). This is hypothesized to be related to its effects on inhibition of carbohydrate digesting enzymes in the body, meaning fewer carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed by the body, ultimately diminishing the glycemic load (i.e. carbohydrate volume) impact of the meal-related to spiking blood sugar.
This is just a partial review of the many supplemental and food extract options out there that research in now illustrating may be beneficial in combating the “diabesity” epidemic in the Western world. As is the case with most supplements, ideal benefits will be achieved when supplementation is combined with other good lifestyle adjustments such as adequate sleep (7.5 - 9 hours nightly research suggests is generally ideal), regular activity and exercise most days of the week, reduced stress, minimized toxin exposure and a diet rich in whole, organic foods (especially vegetables and lower glycemic fruits, seeds and nuts rich in minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals). Remember, it is the cumulative sum of all the “good” things you are doing lifestyle-wise vs. the negative that generally tells and writes the story of your health. Hopefully, this information will help you take charge of ensuring your blood sugar story is a healthy one!