The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Natural Approaches Control Your Blood Sugar?

If you have type 2 diabetes, can you use exercise, diet and supplements to control your blood sugar? The evidence suggests that many people can.

Type 2 diabetes has become very common. Consequently, many people must pay close attention to their blood sugar. What influences blood glucose levels? There are, of course, medications that may be necessary. However, there are individuals who would prefer a natural approach. Could you control your blood sugar with diet and dietary supplements along with exercise?

How to Control Your Blood Sugar Naturally:

Q. My husband is controlling his blood sugar with supplements, diet and exercise. The supplements work for a while, but then his numbers go up in spite of a good diet. Do you have any natural suggestions that could help?

A. A low-carb diet and regular exercise can help control blood sugar, especially if these strategies lead to weight loss (Sato et al, Clinical Nutrition, Aug. 2017; Meng et al, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, Sep. 2017). Many people find it difficult to maintain such a diet over the long term, however. In addition, its benefits fade unless it is actively followed (Sato et al, PLoS One, Dec. 4, 2017).

A systematic review of 20 randomized controlled trials lasting at least six months showed that many different dietary approaches could be helpful if followed conscientiously (Ajala, English & Pinkney, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2013).

According to the authors:

“Low-carbohydrate, low-GI [glycemic index], Mediterranean, and high-protein diets are effective in improving various markers of cardiovascular risk in people with diabetes and should be considered in the overall strategy of diabetes management.”


Regular exercise can help with blood sugar control as well as with weight management. Interrupting long bouts of sitting by getting up and walking around every half hour or so helps bring blood glucose down (McCarthy et al, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Nov. 2017). This approach seems especially helpful for men who aren’t very fit. Overall, it appears that a single exercise session can have immediate metabolic benefits (Asano et al, World Journal of Diabetes, Oct. 15, 2014).

One group of Dutch scientists argues that providing a systematic framework to treat people with type 2 diabetes through

“personalized diagnosis and diet, physical activity and stress management, self-empowerment, motivation, participation and health literacy, all facilitated by blended care and ehealth”

is (or should be) the new paradigm (van Ommen et al, Frontiers in Endocrinology, Jan. 22, 2018).

Dietary Supplements to Control Your Blood Sugar:

Taking a water-extracted cinnamon product may help control your blood sugar. However, this approach remains controversial (Costello et al, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nov. 2016). Other dietary supplements that help people keep their blood sugar under control include fenugreek, nopal (Opuntia), psyllium and ginger (Ota & Ulrih, Frontiers in Pharmacology, online July 6, 2017).

One reader asked about fenugreek:

Q. I found a spice in my spice rack that I had never heard of and I had no instructions on how to use it. In researching fenugreek as a spice, I found that it is one of the most overlooked medicinal herbs.

It is used to lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and increase lactation (for breastfeeding mothers). The only side effect I found is nausea if you take too much. What do you know about this herb?

A. Studies in animals and humans show that fenugreek can lower cholesterol and blood sugar. If people with diabetes take fenugreek, they should monitor their blood sugar to make sure it doesn’t fall too much.

Fenugreek seeds are rich in soluble fiber and can be used to treat constipation. At high doses, this herb can cause digestive distress.

We didn’t find any evidence that fenugreek could improve lactation, and The Natural Health Bible cautions pregnant and nursing women to avoid it.

Any tactics a person employs to control blood sugar require careful coordination with the physician. It makes sense to keep the doctor informed. In addition, certain supplements may interact with diabetes medicine. For example, cinnamon increases blood levels of pioglitazone (Actos) (Mamindla et al, Current Clinical Pharmacology, 2017).

Daily glucose monitoring is essential. For more details on these and other approaches we are sending you our Guide to Managing Diabetes.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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If and when people stop using the term “diet” instead using the term eating program, then they may find themselves quite able to stay on the program longer.

Forgot to include: exercise!

Although I do not have diabetes I did tune in to the iThrive series that offered many experiences. To my understanding low carb was the key,[mostly from vegetables, some fruit] moderate protein. The fats were in contention as to how much. In the end a totally vegetable/plant based diet seemed to be most recommended. Altho the series is finished perhaps it could be found on youtube.

I was diagnosed with diabetes seven years ago, and I started getting complications such as renal failure. Someone suggested that I purchase diabetes herbal formula from BEST HEALTH HERBAL CENTRE which i did. I only used the diabetes herbal formula for 5 weeks only. Is three months now, no more renal failure and I have been free of diabetes .

I have exhausted my search in the Charlotte area for Saffron 20mg. I hesitate to order off internet. Please advise on a safe supplier.

Your articles are much appreciated. Thanks.

I was diagnosed with CKD and for years my a1c was stuck on 5.7. But then it crept up to 5.8. That scared me. So i cut back on candy and donuts and after 2 months of taking 200-400 mcgs of Chromium the next blood test showed a1c 5.2. I realize you have to watch that it doesnt drop too low. I for years had hypoglycemia so i know what those symptoms look like and will watch my body ery closely. Justneed help with kidney diet as I am down to 97 lbs. i am 91. Live alone. Still drive and do my own housework. Only have pain when i eatnight shades or dairy.

My husband’s blood sugars had been slowly rising as the years passed. Statins seemed to aggravate the situation. When he turned 60, an a1C result of 6.5 demonstrated Type 2 diabetes. He discontinued the statins, but his a1C stubbornly remained at 6.5. He was alarmed as we had just watched my sister die from kidney failure caused by poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. We decided, rather than start on Diabeta (which was the recommended course of action) to try a high protein, lower carb diet, exercise and weight loss. I took diabetes education classes with him, reasoning that since I prepared our meals, I better know what to do. The dieticians recommended he limit himself to 60 carbs at each meal with 15 carb snacks between meals to control his episodes of hypoglycemia. For the first 6 months, we measured and weighed every carb he put into his mouth. I composed a lower carb, high protein dietary plan (I’m a retired nurse) for all of his favorite meals.

2 years and a 20 lb weight-loss later, his doctors were amazed. His a1C levels began steadily dropping and settled at the upper end of the normal range. They have stabilized at 5.6 – 5.7. He no longer has the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. He completely reversed it through diet and exercise. He doesn’t exercise quite as regularly as he used to, but he has stuck to the diet. Now he can estimate how much he can eat of a higher carb item just by looking at it. For example, he can have 2/3’s of a cup of unsweetened grapefruit slices as part of his dinner. He knows what the amount ‘looks like,’ and that’s what he portions out for himself. All we know is that it worked, and now it’s not particularly difficult to stick with.

During those first 6 months, he weaned himself off ‘sugar.’He decided it was better to re-educate his taste buds than attempt to placate his sweet tooth by using artificially sweetened products (he even refused to use Stevia!). That part took some self-control, but after 6 months, he no longer craved sugar. In fact, naturally sweetened items, such as a navel orange taste very “sweet” to him now. He’s retiring shortly and looks forward to continuing a daily exercise routine. If more people took their initial diagnosis seriously and changed their dietary and exercise habits as promptly as my husband did, perhaps this country could reverse the trend of riding adult onset diabetes. The secret is not to ignore your symptoms or lab work… You need to do what makes your body stay healthy. It’s so worth it in the long run!

I’m always surprised that no one ever mentions Nopal for controlling blood sugar. It’s been used for centuries in Mexico.

I started 5 years ago on 150 mg of Pycnogenol. My glucose morning readings immensely improved (95-110) after the first 3 months, and I decreased the dosage to 100 mg. It’s definitely not a license to eat indiscriminately. I still have to be aware of my diet. So far, I have been able to avoid prescription medication. Pycnogenol is a patented extract of French maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster). It is standardized to contain 65-75% procyanidins, a class of polyphenols and flavonoids like those found in blueberries, wine, grape skin, citrus, and cocoa. One word of caution: Buy only supplements that have “Pycnogenol” on the label as it is a patented name that assures that you are getting exactly what it says.

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