Learn about controlling blood sugar using natural remedies including American ginseng as an addition to your diet.
Read more about natural remedies for heart health: Prevent Artery Plaque Build Up Using Natural Remedies.
Controlling Blood Sugar Using Natural Remedies
I was wondering if you had any information on what herbs and natural remedies are used for glucose intolerance?
Keville responds: The term “glucose intolerance” means your body isn’t regulating sugar properly. Usually referred to as impaired glucose tolerance, it describes a pre-diabetic or borderline diabetic condition. The fault is usually an insufficient amount of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which acts with insulin to metabolize and regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. GTF also decreases LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL.
One of the best supplements to improve glucose tolerance is chromium. This trace element is a major component in GTF. Stresses on the body, such as illness, surgery and intense cold or heat, tend to increase the body’s need for chromium. Its availability also decreases with age and diabetes. Processed foods contain very little chromium, and sugary foods only increase its loss, which may be why chromium deficiency is so common in the United States.
Niacin is another essential component of GTF. Studies show it may help prevent the onset of diabetes. (Niacin sometimes disrupts blood sugar control in diabetics, so blood sugar needs to be monitored carefully.) Best results are with a form called inositol hexaniacinate. This form does not produce the flushing and stomach irritation that otherwise may be experienced. Biotin and vitamin E are other nutrients that improve the GTF and are thought to help prevent diabetes.
Herbs that help stabilize glucose tolerance are Asian ginseng, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre). Some of the most popular herbs to lower blood sugar are onion, garlic, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and the Asian vegetable bitter melon (Momordica charantia).
Brewer’s yeast, rich in GTF, has been shown to improve glucose tolerance and lower cholesterol levels. Eating foods that are rich in potassium and keeping salt and fats in your diet to a minimum helps keep blood sugar normal. Basically, the more your diet is composed of natural, whole foods with complex carbohydrates and the more you stay away from processed foods, the better.
Another way to improve glucose tolerance is to exercise, which increases chromium levels in the tissues. It’s also important to keep your weight down.
Khalsa responds: Glucose is the simple sugar your body uses for fuel. When you have inadequate blood insulin, or when you can’t utilize the insulin you manufacture, glucose becomes elevated in your blood. A person with glucose intolerance has blood sugar levels somewhere between those of a normal person and a diabetic person. It is generally thought to foreshadow the development of type 2 diabetes. In the United States, 18.2 million people have this condition. Early treatment is thought to prevent progression to diabetes.
Glucose intolerance is rarely a stand-alone condition. It is one of a number of conditions collectively known as syndrome X (obesity, insulin resistance, high blood insulin, impaired insulin tolerance, high blood pressure and abnormal blood fat levels). Each of these conditions contributes individually to the development of diabetes.
Glucose intolerance is caused by the same factors as full-blown diabetes. Your risk of developing glucose intolerance appears to involve genetics and lifestyle issues. Sedentary lifestyle and obesity are closely linked to insulin resistance and blood sugar problems. Women are more likely than men to develop glucose intolerance. Certain health conditions (including obesity and hyperthyroidism) contribute to impaired glucose tolerance.
According to dietitians who specialize in this condition, you should follow a healthy diet, keep your proper weight, get regular exercise and stop smoking. Eat high-fiber foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables at regular intervals. Shun sugar, fried and high-fat foods, and high salt intake.
Numerous studies have shown that fiber supplements (psyllium, guargum, pectin and oat bran) have improved glucose tolerance. The extent to which moderate amounts of fiber help people with glucose intolerance in the long term is still unknown.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is looking promising for controlling blood sugar. Several recent studies by scientists at the University of Toronto highlighted its ability to smooth out blood sugar rises after meals in non-diabetics and type II diabetics. An article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition stated that ginseng likely acted by enhancing insulin secretion, making it look like it would be valuable in existing diabetes. Try a dose of 1 gram at each meal.
Gymnema, well known in Ayurvedic medicine, is particularly appropriate for American audiences. The leaves are a blood sugar balancer, lowering glucose significantly in hyperglycemic people. In traditional medicine, 6 to 12 grams of the powdered leaf each day is used. Recent studies have used 400 mg daily of a leaf extract.
Finally, fenugreek seed has well-documented medical applications for blood sugar control. Doses as low as 15 mg daily may bring about beneficial outcomes in fasting blood sugar, after-meal blood sugar elevation and overall glycemic control.
Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association (www.ahaherb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books, including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.
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