Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with changes to diet and an increase in exercise. These are the first steps towards controlling blood sugar. If these efforts are not sufficient, then medications are added. Many people are hesitant to take medication due to side effects, cost, or other reasons. Patients often ask about natural remedies for diabetes, so I wanted to review some of the options available.
First and most importantly, do not stop taking any medications or start taking natural remedies or supplements without your doctor’s approval.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon bark powder is often touted as a natural way to treat diabetes, and can be found in supplements marketed to diabetes patients. Some small studies have shown a dose of 1-6 grams may be effective at lowering blood sugar, but other studies have not shown a significant effect. Cinnamon appears to have a mechanism of action similar to medications like pioglitazone. There is a case of a patient who was taking a cinnamon supplement and developed edema (fluid retention), a common side effect of pioglitazone also. More info
Bitter Melon: The fruit of the Momordica Charantia plant; bitter melon or bitter gourd, has been used in traditional medicine in Asian cultures to treat diabetes. Compounds in the seeds and fruit appear to act by increasing GLP-1 (glucagon like peptide) and decreasing DPP-4 (dipeptidyl peptidase). This is a similar mechanism of action to drugs like exenatide or sitagliptin. More info here
Ginseng: Ginseng is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb which has been in use for thousands of years for many ailments including diabetes. Some studies suggest ginseng can stimulate insulin secretion via compound K, which is formed as the body breaks down the ginseng. A meta-analysis showed ginseng improved fasting blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. Source here
Since herbal products are not regulated like medications, the ingredients and doses contained in supplements can vary quite a bit. Use caution and always consult your doctor first.