While eating a healthy diet (which includes intermittent fasting) and exercising regularly are necessary to lower blood sugar, these are not the only parts of my natural approach to managing diabetes. Nutritional support is also a key component of treating the disease.
Supplements to Manage Diabetes Are Critical
One reason nutritional support is so important is because diabetes is a nutritionally wasting disease. Elevated glucose levels act like a diuretic and cause substantial loss of nutrients in the urine. Therefore, people with type 2 diabetes are likely to be deficient in important water-soluble vitamins and minerals.
Incredibly, most experts specializing in diabetes make no attempt whatsoever to replace lost nutrients, leaving their patients to suffer the inevitable consequences of nutritional deficiencies.
A second reason nutritional supplements for diabetes is essential is that carefully increasing your intake of nutrients that support your body’s ability to use insulin can help keep your blood sugar at healthy levels.
Anyone who has diabetes should—at a minimum—take a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement every day. Research has shown that taking a potent daily multivitamin dramatically reduces the incidence of infection and the number of sick days taken by patients with type 2 diabetes.
Must-Have Supplements for Diabetes
In addition to a multivitamin, make sure you are getting the following nutrients. Many are included in multivitamins, but not always at the dosages I recommend. If your multi comes up short, supplement with additional doses of the specific nutrients until you’re taking the recommended amount.
Vitamins B6 and B12 specifically support nerve health, which is critical for addressing conditions such as diabetic neuropathy. Biotin is another B-complex vitamin that is necessary for both metabolism and growth. Biotin is also involved in the manufacture and utilization of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Take 75 mg of B6, 150 mcg of B12, and 300 mcg of biotin daily.
Vitamin C lowers levels of sorbitol, the sugar that can collect in and damage cells in the eyes, kidneys and nerves. I recommend at least 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily.
Vitamin D turns on genes that boost production of antimicrobial peptides called cathelicidins, which destroy viruses, bacteria and other germs. Because people with diabetes are more prone to infections due to diabetic ulcers and periodontal disease, making sure your body has optimal levels of this fat-soluble vitamin is important. I recommend at least 2,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D (as cholecalciferol or D3) daily.
Vitamin E is the body’s premier fat-soluble antioxidant. It improves glucose control and protects blood vessels and nerves from free radical damage, which is accelerated by the diabetes. Studies have shown that high doses of supplemental vitamin E may even reverse damage to nerves caused by diabetes and protect against diabetic cataracts and atherosclerosis. I recommend that everyone, regardless of health status, take at least 300 IU of vitamin E every day.
When taking vitamin E, take only the natural form of it. You can tell it’s natural if it’s listed as d-alpha-tocopherol or d-alpha-tocopheryl. Synthetic vitamin E is listed as dl-alpha-tocopherol or dl-alpha tocopheryl (note the “l”).
Magnesium is a mineral crucial for energy production and protein synthesis, cellular replication and DNA production. Magnesium has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, helping to keep blood sugar levels in check. I recommend 500–1,000 mg of magnesium daily.
Vanadium (as vanadyl sulfate) mimics insulin in the body and helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. The suggested dose is 100 mg daily.
Chromium is a trace mineral that improves the action of insulin and helps move glucose and other nutrients into the cells. Chromium doesn’t cause the body to make more insulin—it just helps insulin work better.
At least 15 well-controlled clinical trials examining the effects of supplemental chromium on patients with diabetes, insulin resistance and other blood sugar abnormalities have shown that this mineral improves glucose metabolism. I recommend 200 mcg of chromium picolinate daily.
Berberine, a plant alkaloid, targets AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism present in all animals and plants. AMPK stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells, improves insulin sensitivity and reduces glucose production in the liver, which is in overdrive in diabetic patients. I recommend 1,500 mg of berberine daily.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a plant that Americans generally consider to be a weed, yet Europeans and Asians love to eat. But purslane has a health benefit that everyone can appreciate—its ability to help control blood sugar.
A patented purslane extract (Portusana) has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, enhance glucose uptake into the cells and slow the transport of glucose from the intestines into the blood. I recommend 180 mg of purslane daily.
Gymnema sylvestre is an extract from the leaves of a climbing plant native to the forests of central and south India. The leaves of the plant contain gymnemic acids, which have been shown to slow the transport of glucose from the intestines to the bloodstream. This, in turn, helps to keep blood sugar levels in the healthy range. I recommend a maintenance dose of 200 mg of Gymnema sylvestre daily. For extra support, try 400 mg daily.
Banaba Leaf Extract
Banaba leaf extract (Lagestroemia speciosa), which comes from Asia, contains colosolic acid. Colosolic acid promotes glucose transport into cells, keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel. I recommend 3 mg of banaba leaf daily.
Because herbs have strong medicinal effects on the body, they can interact with some drugs in ways that can be dangerous to your health. If you are taking any medication (prescription or over-the-counter), talk to your doctor before using herbal products.
More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diabetes
Why you should never treat type 2 diabetes with insulin
If you have type 1 diabetes, taking insulin is appropriate because your body can’t produce it on its own. However, if you have type 2 diabetes, you’re better off not taking insulin. Read more
How to plan a diabetic diet
Because everything you eat affects your glucose levels, properly managing your diet is key to preventing and controlling diabetes. Read more
Reverse diabetes with the mini-fast program
If you have type 2 diabetes, there’s a good chance you can reverse it if you lose weight. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is with a mini-fast. Read more