Best Remedies for Diabetes

Learn about the top integrative therapies and how they could enable you to remain medication free or, with your doctor's approval, reduce the amount you're taking.

  from Best Remedies
  • Prickly pear cactus. In Latin American cultures, people eat the ripe fruit of this cactus fried or in shakes to lower blood sugar levels. More and more grocery stores stock such exotic fruits these days, but if you can’t find it, buy it as a juice or powder. Several small studies find prickly pear cactus can lower blood sugar levels, possibly because it contains components that work similarly to insulin. If you eat it as a food, aim for ½ cup of cooked cactus a day. Otherwise, follow label directions.
  • Fenugreek. This spice is commonly used in Indian cuisine and as part of Ayurvedic medicine. It actually belongs to the legume family (as do peanuts), and its high fiber content (it’s 50 percent fiber) is a major reason for its blood sugar lowering benefits. Plus, studies find it increases the release of insulin from the pancreas. In one well-designed study, 25 people newly diagnosed with diabetes received either a fenugreek seed extract or followed a special diet and exercise program. After two months, blood sugar levels in both groups dropped about the same. An added bonus? Fenugreek can also reduce cholesterol levels. Mix 50 grams of powdered fenugreek with water to make a gruel, or take ½ to 1 tablespoon of a defatted fenugreek seed powder or two fenugreek pills before meals. Don’t worry if your urine smells like maple syrup while you’re taking it; that’s normal.
  • Cinnamon. Researchers from Pakistan, the birthplace of cinnamon, found that people with type 2 diabetes who took between 1 and 6 grams (about 1/4 to 1 ½ teaspoons) of cinnamon for 40 days had blood glucose levels 18 to 29 percent lower than those who didn’t take any cinnamon (the more cinnamon, the lower the blood sugar levels). Try mixing the spice into coffee or tea, sprinkling it over cereal, yogurt, or cottage cheese, and adding to baked goods and even sauces.
  • Bitter melon. This South American fruit/vegetable (it’s referred to as both) has been used as a diabetes treatment in folk medicine for centuries — and for good reason. Animal and human studies find it can reduce blood sugar levels, most likely through a chemical in the plant that acts like insulin. Buy bitter melon capsules and follow the package directions.
  • Gymnema sylvestre. This plant has been used to treat diabetes in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Chewing the leaf or even holding the extract in your mouth for a minute suppresses your ability to taste sweetness for more than an hour, reducing the amount of food (and calories) you take in during your next meal. You can find several products on the market that take advantage of this action, including gums called Sweet Relief and SugarFighter. Gymnema also boosts the release of insulin from the pancreas, and may enable you to take less diabetes medicine. Take 400 milligrams of a gymnema extract twice a day.
  • Bilberry. Not only does a tea made with this herb reduce blood sugar levels in animal studies, but the fruit of the plant, rich in antioxidants called anthocyanidins, also seems to help prevent damage to very tiny blood vessels. This damage is common in people with diabetes, resulting in a nerve-related complication called neuropathy, as well as the eye problem called retinopathy. Take 80 to 160 milligrams of an extract standardized to 25% anthocyanidins in divided doses.Prescription Drugs
    In addition to injectable insulin, several oral drugs are available for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. These include:
  • Sulfonylureas. Sulfonylureas are the oldest class of oral diabetes drugs. The newer drugs within this class, such as Amaryl (glimepiride), are less likely to induce hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar. They work by stimulating your pancreas to make more insulin, so only use them if the insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas still work.
  • Biguanides. The most commonly prescribed biguanide is Glucophage (metformin). It seems to work by reducing the amount of glucose the liver releases and helps insulin push glucose into muscle cells. Don’t use it if you have kidney failure or congestive heart failure.
  • Thiazolidinediones. Avandia (rosiglitazone) and Actos (pioglitazone), help your muscles take in more glucose, thus reducing the amount of glucose your liver releases, although not as much as metformin. There’s some evidence it may also help maintain the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin, which often weakens over time. Downsides are that they take up to a month to begin working (four months for maximum effect), and can cause weight gain. Stay away if you have congestive heart failure.
  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. Used rarely these days, Precose (acarbose) and Glyset (miglitol) slow the absorption of carbohydrates. They have to be taken throughout the day as soon as you start eating. They also cause gas and bloating, side effects that may disappear once you’ve been using them awhile.
  • Meglitinides. Prandin (repaglinide) and Starlix (nateglinide) help the pancreas make more insulin, but only when blood sugar is high — a plus over the sulfonylureas because they reduce the risk of hypoglycemia. They’re taken before meals so they work right when you need them. Incretins. This is the newest class of diabetes drug. The first drug, Byetta (exenatide) was approved in April 2005, and others are coming. Given by self-injection with a prefilled pen, it enhances the effect of hormones secreted by the intestines that signal the pancreas to make more insulin. It also prevents the liver from releasing stored glucose, and slows the rate at which food enters the intestine, further blunting any post-meal glucose spikes. There’s also some evidence these drugs can help maintain the health of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Byetta even suppresses the appetite and may therefore help with weight loss. It’s often prescribed along with oral diabetes medications (although it may also be prescribed alone), and is taken before breakfast and dinner.

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