Diabetes: Finding a healthy balance

Diabetes is a serious and growing health problem in the Western world. Recent figures put the estimate at about 5% of the population, of which 90% is type II or adult-onset diabetes. This type is thought to be most related to diet and lifestyle choices. Though there is no “cure” for diabetes, there are many safe, natural remedies for use in the management of the disease—especially type II. The following are some of the most popular and effective.


Many studies show that chromium, a trace mineral, can help to regulate blood sugar levels by decreasing glucose, lowering insulin and improving glucose tolerance factor—the ability of the body to properly use and react to glucose. Chromium may also decrease hunger and food cravings, since insulin is involved in the development of a brain chemical linked to carbohydrate craving. Many North Americans are at risk for low chromium—people who eat diets high in refined sugars tend to eliminate 300% more chromium in their urine than those who eat little refined sugars. According to Dr Michael Murray, ND, chromium deficiency “may be an underlying contributing factor” in diabetes, hypoglycemia and obesity.


Like chromium, this herb is valuable as a blood sugar balancer. Used in India for thousands of years, gymnema may be useful for both types of diabetes, as studies indicate it may actually help repair damaged pancreas cells—the gland where insulin is produced. In some studies, patients taking gymnema were able to decrease or stop their diabetes medications. Gymnema also suppresses the sweetness of sugar, curbing sweet cravings.


Antioxidants like alpha lipoic acid (ALA) are especially helpful for diabetics. These help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals and glucose which binds to proteins. This binding, called glycosylation, can lead to high cholesterol, eye and nerve damage (neuropathy)—all common offshoots of diabetes. In one recent study, about 97% of diabetic patients treated with ALA daily for three weeks reported an improvement in their neuropathy symptoms. ALA also helps to normalize blood sugar. While there are no known toxicities with ALA, it is important for diabetics to carefully monitor blood glucose levels when supplementing with this nutrient.

Note: Never cease a prescription for diabetes. Consult your doctor or naturopath for the proper use of any of the supplements mentioned above.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, Prima:1996; The Super Antioxidants by J Balch, Evans:1998; The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau.