Several strategies may help lower blood sugar levels, or glucose, naturally. Of course, focusing on a healthy diet and getting enough activity is the pillar of good glucose control.
But for some, supplementation can provide added benefits for glucose control. It's especially true among people who may not get enough of the vital nutrients needed to help with stable blood sugar levels through their diet.
Remember: it‘s essential to ensure you‘re getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients through diet before turning to supplements. While dietary supplements can help fill in the gaps, they shouldn‘t become your primary source of these nutrients.
A Note on the Research
Much of the research on the effects of supplements on blood sugar, glucose metabolism, and glycemic control is in patients with type 2 diabetes. There is less research on these supplements in people with more normal glucose levels, which is also an important consideration.
As with anything that has the potential to lower glucose, there is always a risk of you experiencing very low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
There is potential for interactions between supplements and any medications.
So it's best to check with your doctor or health practitioner before implementing any of the supplements discussed in this article.
9 Supplements That May Help Blood Glucose Levels
In our first installment of this series, we told you about plant-based supplements like aloe vera, bitter melon, ginseng, berberine, cinnamon, Nigella Sativa, and Gymnema Sylvestre.
In this article, we’re covering vitamins like vitamin D, minerals like magnesium, and other types of natural dietary supplements that may help with glucose control. Read on to find out more about how each one affects blood sugar levels and what other health benefits they may have.
1) Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is present in small amounts in some foods, but most of the vitamin D we need is synthesized in the skin from sunlight exposure.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone formation, reducing inflammation, and immune function. Recently vitamin D has been studied for type 2 diabetes and blood glucose control.
Epidemiological studies show an association between vitamin D and decreased insulin resistance and the incidence of type 2 diabetes.
This meta-analysis found that supplementing with vitamin D increased serum levels of vitamin D and reduced insulin resistance.
It was for a high-dose supplement taken for a short period in people already deficient in vitamin D.
Most research shows that vitamin D supplementation is most effective in people with diabetes or prediabetes who have deficient or insufficient vitamin D status.
Supplementing with vitamin D might have to be individualized as it may depend on:
- Your current vitamin D status.
- How much sun exposure you get.
- Other factors such as genetics.
Supplements can vary in how much vitamin D they contain, so consulting with a healthcare provider is a good idea. The amount used in studies varies between 1,600-4,000 IU (international units) per day.
Based on the research, taking a vitamin D supplement will likely not improve healthy people's insulin resistance or glycemic control. It also doesn't have too many of these benefits for those with adequate vitamin D levels.
While vitamin D supplementation can be both safe and effective, taking a higher dose of vitamin D for long periods can lead to vitamin D toxicity, which can lead to various issues, including a buildup of calcium in the blood as well as nausea and vomiting.
Other Health Benefits
- It’s essential for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis.
- It may slow cancer progression.
- Vitamin D links to heart health, and adequate vitamin D levels are associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- It has possible links to decreasing depression.
- There is also some research on the association between low vitamin D status and multiple sclerosis.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, a cofactor for many enzymes, and is involved in many physiological processes.
Most research on magnesium supplementation is in people with type 2 diabetes, so there is not enough evidence to support taking magnesium for people with slightly elevated glucose levels.
Because magnesium is involved in metabolic processes involving carbohydrate metabolism, it may be advisable to take magnesium in situations where someone is deficient in magnesium or is not getting enough daily magnesium.
Magnesium is in foods such as nuts, oat bran, spinach, and brown rice.
- This study looked at a 250 mg magnesium supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes and found a significant improvement in hemoglobin A1C and reductions in markers for insulin resistance.
- This systemic review concludes that there is insufficient evidence to make any clinical guidelines for magnesium supplementation to improve glycemic control.
- A study with a small sample size concluded that supplementing with 400 mg of magnesium citrate significantly lowered hemoglobin A1C.
Studies also suggest that supplementing magnesium when dietary intake is inadequate may improve glucose regulation.
- This study showed an association between low magnesium and poor metabolic control.
- However, another study did not show an association between magnesium levels and hemoglobin A1C in diabetes patients.
Other Health Benefits
- It can reduce your risk factors for conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
- It can help prevent osteoporosis.
- A magnesium deficiency is associated with headaches, which may also help prevent migraines.
Chromium is a trace element in many foods and is available as a supplement. Chromium is commonly supplemented in the form of chromium picolinate.
Food sources of chromium include meats, grain products, brewer’s yeast, nuts, fruits, beer, and wine. Most people are getting enough chromium, and a deficiency is rare, although our need for chromium increases as we age and during pregnancy and lactation.
Chromium may also play a role in macronutrient metabolism and insulin action.
- This study in rats concluded it might play a role in regulating food intake.
- Some studies show that chromium supplementation may improve glycemic control in individuals with diabetes, although the effect may be marginal with no impact on lowering hemoglobin A1C.
- A review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that the relationship between chromium picolinate and insulin resistance is highly uncertain.
The amount of chromium in studies varied. While around 200 micrograms per day appeared safe in the short term, some studies used higher amounts.
Although no upper limit is established for chromium, people with renal or liver disease should use caution when taking a chromium supplement.
Other Health Benefits
- Studies indicate an association between poor chromium status and elevated blood cholesterol.
- It may aid in weight loss.
4) Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is also known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid and is a naturally occurring compound that humans synthesize. It has been used to treat chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is synthesized in the mitochondria of cells and helps protect the cells as an antioxidant. It‘s predominantly found in meat and minimally in other foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Most of the research on the benefits of ALA shows promise as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy. There is some research that ALA may help improve hemoglobin A1C.
- This study in patients with type 2 diabetes taking either a placebo or 300 milligrams ALA for eight weeks indicated the ALA group improved fasting blood glucose and decreased insulin resistance.
- A systematic review showed an improvement in insulin resistance with ALA supplementation.
The amount of ALA used in studies varies, and the method of administration varies as some studies used intravenous supplements vs. oral supplements.
ALA is considered safe to consume without too many known side effects. Remember, it‘s best to consult a physician before taking ALA if you have liver disease, consume large amounts of alcohol, have a thyroid condition, or have a thiamine deficiency.
Other Health Benefits
- Antioxidant properties may benefit conditions in which there is oxidative stress, including neuropathy, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Zinc is an essential mineral in some foods and is also sold as a dietary supplement. It is involved in many aspects of cellular metabolism and is also an insulin mimetic. It activates cellular pathways that regulate cellular metabolism and other physiological responses.
It's why zinc supplementation has been identified as possibly having benefits in lower glucose.
Research indicates that supplementing with zinc may have glucose-lowering effects in people with type 2 diabetes, and the research shows that this benefit is more significant among older adults.
Studies involving cell cultures and animal models do implicate that zinc supplementation may benefit people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, this review concluded that there is not enough evidence to recommend zinc supplementation to prevent type 2 diabetes.
There is not enough evidence to recommend a zinc supplement for lowering glucose, and most research on humans has been on people with type 2 diabetes.
Like other supplements involving minerals, it‘s essential to be cautious when taking a supplement.
Large amounts of zinc can cause zinc toxicity. It is also not recommended to take zinc long term because it can cause an imbalance in copper. Before taking a zinc supplement, it‘s essential to eat foods that contain zinc, including oysters, beef, and pumpkin seeds.
Other Health Benefits
- Zinc is important for immune function.
- Zinc can help with wound healing.
Folate is a B-vitamin in many foods and is necessary to make DNA and other material. A form of folate known as folic acid is in many dietary supplements and fortified in certain foods.
- Research indicates that a higher folate intake may lower plasma glucose in people with metabolic syndrome.
- A meta-analysis of folate supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes indicates that insulin lowering effects may be. However, there were no effects on lowering glucose or hemoglobin A1C.
- Higher serum folate levels have an inverse association with insulin resistance in people without diabetes.
The research indicates that folate might play a role in insulin resistance, but the glucose-lowering effects are less clear.
Getting adequate folate in the diet should be the first approach before supplementation. Foods high in folate include beef liver, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and peas.
Other Health Benefits
- The most notable benefit of folate is the prevention of neural tube defects in babies.
- Folate in food may help prevent cancer, but too much folic acid (a form of folate) may actually increase the risk of certain cancers.
- There is some indication that taking a form of folate called methyl folate may make antidepressant medications more effective.
7) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are in foods such as fish and flaxseed or supplements. There are three main types of omega-3 fats:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Most of the research on omega-3 fatty acids is focused on EPA and DHA.
The research on the glucose-lowering effects of omega-3 fats is limited, and most research does not indicate that omega-3 fats have a glucose-lowering effect.
There is some potential it could help prevent insulin resistance.
However, research on mice indicated no insulin lowering effect of omega-3 fats, so it's a bit conflicting.
Omega-3 fatty acids may not have a significant impact on lowering glucose. Still, there are other benefits. So it is possible that eating enough foods high in omega-3 fats or taking a supplement in conjunction with other therapies might have a beneficial effect on lowering lipids or other inflammatory markers and improving overall metabolic health.
Other Health Benefits
- Eating adequate amounts of EPA and DHA from fish oil can help lower triglycerides.
- Eating adequate amounts of EHA and DHA during pregnancy can help babies' development.
- There is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids might be beneficial for cancer prevention.
8) Fiber Supplementation
Fiber is a carbohydrate your body can’t digest—it passes through the body undigested. Fiber is in many foods, including fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans.
Fiber supplements fall into two categories:
- Natural fibers such as inulin, psyllium, or ß- glucan
- Artificial fibers such as wheat dextrin or methylcellulose.
Introducing a gel-forming or soluble fiber such as ß- glucan can increase the viscosity of undigested food in the small intestine, making it thicker. It slows the interaction between digestive enzymes and nutrients such as glucose, which can delay absorption.
It, in turn, can lead to a lower post-meal peak in glucose and better glycemic control.
Studies on fiber supplementation are promising.
The addition of a soluble fiber supplement in patients with type-2 diabetes lowered BMI (body mass index), fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1C and other markers for insulin resistance.
The fact that the individuals in this study had a decrease in BMI is interesting as it's possible that the subjects experienced improvements in glucose and insulin resistance due to weight loss.
This meta-analysis also showed the benefit of fiber supplementation in reducing hemoglobin A1C.
Getting enough fiber from food is a good idea. Still, if you find it hard to get enough fiber from your diet (or want to experiment with additional fiber), consider a more natural fiber supplement or a psyllium fiber supplement.
Other Health Benefits
- Fiber and soluble fiber, in particular, are linked with lower cholesterol.
- Increased fiber intake can help with weight loss.
- It may improve stool formation and reduce symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (or bacteria) often consumed in food or supplements intended to affect the body positively. Many types of bacteria make up probiotics.
Some evidence suggests that certain types of bacteria are under-represented in the guts of people with type 2 diabetes, indicating that supplementation with these bacteria may be beneficial in lowering glucose.
In addition, gut microbiome dysbiosis has been linked with insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes.
- Research indicates that probiotics may have a lipid-lowering effect in patients with type 2 diabetes. Probiotics may also improve fasting glucose levels in this population.
- A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials showed subjects with type 2 diabetes supplementing with probiotics improved glycemic markers, including hemoglobin A1C, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin.
- However, research looking at probiotic yogurt did not show an effect in lowering glucose.
- Research looking at a multistrain probiotic supplement did show modest improvement in fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C.
- Another study looking at combination probiotic and prebiotic supplements showed improved glycemic control.
- However, this systematic study looking at the effect of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics concluded there is insufficient evidence linking these supplements with glycemic control and other markers of metabolic health.
- This study showed only a modest improvement of a multistrain probiotic in improving hemoglobin A1C and fasting insulin in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Most of the research on probiotics‘ effect on glucose regulation and glycemic markers is done in people with type 2 diabetes. There are several strains of probiotics and different formulations and amounts of probiotics within supplements, which makes recommending probiotics more complicated.
The amount of probiotics contained in the supplement could also contribute to why some studies did not see an improvement in glycemic markers with probiotics.
There is minimal risk of any side effects.
Other Health Benefits
- It helps the body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms.
- It may influence your body’s immune response.
- It can help with gastrointestinal disorders and problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
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Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health, which led her to NutriSense and CGMs.