Diabetes is a chronic condition that is associated with high blood sugar levels. Treatments include insulin administration, medication use, and lifestyle changes.
But before the emergence of these treatment strategies, herbs and supplements were used to treat diabetes – especially type 2 diabetes.
Studies in recent times have found that supplements and herbs can work synergistically with medications to form a comprehensive treatment plan that will help reduce diabetes symptoms.
In this article, learn about 10 herbs that may benefit people with type 2 diabetes and choose one that works best for you.
10 herbs for type 2 diabetes
1. Bitter melon
Momordica charantia also known as bitter melon, karela, balsam pear, or bitter gourd, is a popular plant used to treat diabetes in India, the Caribbean, and Africa.
The leaves, fruit, seed, and bark of bitter melon are all used to treat diabetes in traditional medicine.
Recent studies suggest that bitter melon may help lower blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. In one study, 90 people, treated with bitter melon extracts, noticed a reduction in their fasting blood glucose levels after 12 weeks .
Another review found that bitter melon’s rich content of bioactive compounds reduced oxidative stress and increased the uptake of glucose into the body’s cells .
The fruits and leaves of bitter melon are very versatile and can be taken as a supplement or added to your smoothies and salads.
However, consult your doctor or pharmacist before using bitter melon supplements, as they may interact with some anti-diabetic medications.
You can find bitter melon supplements online.
Also read: Bitter Gourd: 7 Amazing Benefits of Fruits and Leaves
Garlic is a herb that is closely related to onions, leeks, shallots, and chives. It is widely used in cooking and can help reduce blood pressure.
Several studies have found that garlic reduces blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity, lowering bad cholesterol levels, and reducing oxidative stress in the body [3, 4].
You can take garlic as a supplement or add fresh or powdered garlic to your cooking or tea.
Garlic supplements are available online.
Cinnamon also known as sweet wood, comes from the inner bark of tropical evergreen trees.
It adds a delicious sweetness to meals and may limit the need for sugar in a diabetes diet.
Several studies have found that cinnamon may help your body’s cells to respond better to insulin by increasing glucose uptake into your cells, which in turn reduces your blood sugar levels [5, 6].
They are two common varieties of cinnamon, The Cassia and the Ceylon (true) varieties.
The Cassia variety contains more coumarin – a compound that may be harmful in high amounts while the Ceylon variety, is low in coumarin and a safer alternative.
Find Ceylon cinnamon supplements online.
Turmeric is a popular spice used in soups and curries. It contains curcumin, a compound that is responsible for its numerous health benefits.
Review studies have found that curcumin’s antioxidant properties help lower blood sugar and bad cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes .
In addition, curcumin may help prevent diabetes. In a nine-month study of 240 adults with pre-diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was significantly reduced in individuals who took coumarin capsules .
You can add fresh or dried turmeric powder to your soups, tea, smoothies, or supplements.
Find turmeric-curcumin supplements online.
5. Aloe vera
Aloe vera is popularly known for its role in treating skin problems. However, studies suggest that the juice from aloe vera may help lower blood sugar levels.
In an 8-week study of 72 pre-diabetic individuals who were placed on aloe vera capsules twice daily; a decrease in fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels was recorded after only 4 weeks .
Another study suggested that the antioxidant properties of aloe vera might help protect and repair the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin .
You can add aloe vera pulp to your drink or smoothies, or take it as a supplement. It is mostly available in capsule form.
Find aloe vera supplement capsules online.
Fenugreek is another healthful spice that has long been in use in alternative medicine to treat diabetes.
In a 3-year study of 140 people, researchers found that supplementing with 10 grams of fenugreek daily improved insulin levels, reduced blood sugar, and decreased LDL cholesterol levels in the body .
Another study of 60 people with type 2 diabetes, found that taking 10 grams of fenugreek soaked in hot water reduced fasting blood glucose levels and HbA1C levels .
You can add fenugreek to your teas, smoothies, and cereals, or take it as a supplement.
Fenugreek supplements are available online.
7. Milk thistle
Milk thistle is a flowering herb that has been in use to treat liver and gall bladder diseases for thousands of years.
It contains silymarin, a compound responsible for its many health benefits.
In one study, 60 people (aged 45 – 70 years) with diabetes and alcoholic liver cirrhosis were receiving insulin and 600 mg of silymarin daily. After 6 months, it was found that daily insulin intake and fasting blood sugar levels were significantly reduced – when compared to the placebo .
Milk thistle can be taken as a tea or a supplement. Find it online.
Gymnema sylvestre is a herb used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat various diseases.
It is also called gurmar – meaning sugar destroyer because it blocks the sweet-taste sensation in the mouth.
Studies suggest that Gymnema can stimulate insulin production in your pancreas. In one study, 22 people with type 2 diabetes experienced a 29% decrease in fasting blood sugar and an 8.48% decrease in HbA1c – after supplementing with 400mg Gymnema leaf extract daily for 18–20 months.
In addition, at the end of the studies, five of the 22 diabetic patients were able to discontinue their medications and maintain their blood glucose with Gymnema supplementation alone .
Another study in 65 diabetic patients showed a decrease in HbAc1 and blood glucose levels after 90 days of supplementing with Gymnema sylvestre .
If you take insulin injections, consult with your doctor before taking Gymnema – to avoid insulin overdose.
You can find Gymnema supplements online.
Both American ginseng and Asian ginseng have been in use since ancient times to treat diabetes, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction.
Studies have found that root extracts of ginseng can reduce blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose reuptake into peripheral tissues .
You can eat ginseng raw or add it to your tea or coffee. Find ginseng supplements online.
10. Holy basil
Holy basil and other varieties of basil (Ocimum species) can help prevent and treat diabetes.
Studies in animals suggest that basil leaves can reduce blood sugar by increasing the secretion of insulin .
One study found that holy basil may reduce both fasting and post-meal blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes .
You can add basil leaves to your tea, stews, soups, and smoothies. Find holy basil supplements online.
Herbs were used in the past to treat diabetes and many other health conditions.
In this present age, herbs still play a role and can act synergistically with modern treatments to relieve diabetes symptoms.
However, always discuss your treatment plans with your doctor and healthcare team to ensure they are safe for your condition – as some of the above supplements may interact with medications and cause your blood sugar to drop too low.
Additionally, to help you and your doctor determine the impact of these herbs on your body, try only one new herb at a time, and check your blood sugar regularly.
- Kim, Soo Kyoung et al. Hypoglycemic efficacy and safety of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.Complementary therapies in medicine
- Joseph, B., & Jini, D. (2013). Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease,
- Wang, Juan, et al. Effect of garlic supplement in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM): a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Food & nutrition research
- Padiya, Raju et al. Garlic improves insulin sensitivity and associated metabolic syndromes in fructose-fed rats. Nutrition & metabolism
- Medagama, A.B. The glycemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutr J 14, 108 (2015).
- Ziegenfuss, Tim N et al. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2006)
- Pivari, Francesca, et al. Curcumin and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Prevention and Treatment. Nutrients vol. 2019
- Somlak et al..Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2012
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- Gaddam, Arpana et al. Role of Fenugreek in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus in prediabetes. Journal of diabetes and metabolic disorders 2015,
- Ranade, Manjiri, and Nikhil Mudgalkar. A simple dietary addition of fenugreek seed leads to the reduction in blood glucose levels: A parallel-group, randomized single-blind trial.” Ayu (2017).
- Velussi M, et al. Silymarin reduces hyperinsulinemia, malondialdehyde levels, and daily insulin need in cirrhotic diabetic patients. Curr Therap Res. 1993
- Baskaran, K et al. Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients. Journal of ethnopharmacology
- Effect of Extended-Release Gymnema Sylvestre Leaf Extract (Beta Fast GXR), diabetes control
- Yuan, Hai-Dan, et al. Ginseng, and diabetes: the evidence from in vitro, animal and human studies. Journal of ginseng research (2012)
- Raiya adiba et al. Antihyperglycemic effect of Ocimum plants: A short review. Asian pacific journal of biomedicine, 2017
- Agrawal, P et al. Randomized placebo-controlled, single-blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. International journal of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (1996)
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