Diabetes is one of the greatest public health epidemics of modern history and for the vast majority of individuals it is completely preventable with diet and exercise. Reducing body weight, increasing exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet without extra calories are some of the easiest ways to lower your risk factors for diabetes. If you have borderline blood sugar, or your A1C(a lab that gives a snapshot of the last 90 days blood sugar levels) is creeping up close to 6, it is time to start considering some lifestyle changes. There are also some supplements that can help improve blood glucose control for those with numbers creeping up- without having to move to pharmaceutical drugs.
This is one of the oldest known spices and remains a favorite in many cultures even today. There are two main types of cinnamon cassia and ceylon.
Here are some benefits of cinnamon: The essential oil contained in cinnamon has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent platelets from clumping together. It is also a powerful antimicrobial. It is also a source of fiber, iron, calcium and manganese. But, most importantly for this article it can help with blood sugar control.
What does the research support: In a study of volunteers eating 1-6 grams of cinnamon daily for 40 days showed cholesterol cut by 18% and blood sugar levels down by 24%. There was also a powerful review article of clinical trials by Allen et al in 2013 that showed cinnamon is associated with a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but not A1C levels.
How much to take: The preferred dose and duration of therapy is not clear, but the good news is that cinnamon is relatively safe when consumed at a dose of a few grams per day. No significant adverse events have been reported. 1 tsp of powdered cinnamon is about 4 grams. You can safely add cinnamon into recipes to increase your intake and take advantage of it’s benefits.
Ideas include: adding to smoothies, oatmeal, granola, applesauce, curries, soups, even tomato sauce (helps cut the acid flavor).
This is a relative to the more familiar sweet basil most use in cooking. In Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese Medicine it holds great status. It is known as the queen of herbs in ancient India.
Here are some of the benefits of Holy Basil: It has many specific uses for helping with coughs, colds, fevers, and stomach aches. It has powerful anti-oxidant activity, protects the liver and is classified as an adaptogen (reduces effects of stress on the body). And of note for this post: it helps manage blood sugar.
What does the research support: Preliminary trials of holy basil leaves and hairy basil seeds have shown these herbs may help with type 2 diabetes blood sugar levels. An uncontrolled study of 1,000 mg per day of holy basil showed lower blood sugar levels, lower LDL and triglycerides. A controlled study tested 2,500 mg per day and found similar changes in blood sugar. While, the mechanism of action is not completely understood it is believed the herb promotes optimal pancreatic function.
How much to take: The preferred dose would be near 1000 mg per day of holy basil leaf extract. This is one I would recommend taking the supplement form as the spice is more difficult to source in the US and would take a good amount of it added to recipes to get the daily value.
There are other herbs and minerals that support healthy blood sugar control including: magnesium, chromium, prickly pear cactus, gymnema sylvestre, and inositol. Depending on what additional health issues you may have, your diet, or other medications you are taking there may be indications to choose one of these options over the other. That is why working with a Dietitian can be so helpful. These herbs and supplements may be helpful, however nothing will be more effective than changing diet and lifestyle factors.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
110 N McClelland Street
Santa Maria, California 93454
Hours: Tues and Thurs 10-5 PST