Over the past three decades, the prevalence of diabetes has increased dramatically. The CDC estimates that 38% of the US adult population has prediabetes and 11.3% has diabetes. As one of the top ten causes of death in the world, diabetes is a serious disease that has reached epidemic levels. Diabetes complications can lead to mortality from infections, cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Furthermore, the CDC has stated that people with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of severe COVID-19. [This article, “Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Can Quality Supplements Help?” was originally published in HealthXWire]
What is prediabetes?
Inactivity, an aging population, and obesity have all contributed to the high number of diabetes cases in the United States. Prediabetes is the biggest risk factor for the development of diabetes, and it occurs when cells have stopped responding properly to the hormone insulin. Your pancreas makes insulin to help move sugar from the blood into cells to be used as energy. When cells are routinely exposed to high levels of insulin, they lose their sensitivity to this hormone, and insulin resistance develops. Your pancreas may increase insulin production to keep blood sugar levels in range at first, but eventually the cells that make insulin may wear out. In this case, the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, and hyperglycemia results. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include: thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, blurred vision, skin infections, and slow-healing cuts and sores.
Type 2 diabetes: preventive basics
Prediabetes is diagnosed when a person has high blood sugar that is still not high enough to be in the range of a diabetes diagnosis. It is well established that preventive measures can delay or stop the onset of full-blown type 2 diabetes. You can help prevent the onset of diabetes with regular exercise, a high-fiber diet that is also low in refined carbohydrates and processed foods, weight loss, and smoking cessation if you smoke. Moderate alcohol consumption, defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, may also reduce the risk of diabetes by promoting the efficiency of insulin as it moves glucose into cells. Replacing sugary beverages with water may also help, as water improves insulin response and blood sugar management. One study showed that people who drank more than two sugary drinks per day had a 20% higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Weight loss is key
While about 70% of prediabetic patients eventually develop type 2 diabetes, some patients can prevent disease onset and normalize their blood sugar levels without drug intervention. A British study of people on a very low-calorie diet of 625-850 calories per day for 2-5 months followed by a maintenance program to keep the weight off showed reversal of diabetes in nearly half the participants. Weight loss is the key to reversing diabetes and also prediabetes. People who lose weight have lower levels of fat in their liver and pancreas, which may help restore beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin and help control blood sugar. Excess body fat and physical inactivity have been established as the two main causes of insulin resistance.
Supplements may help
The surest way to understand your true diabetes risk is with an A1C test. A hemoglobin A1C test will show a 2-3 month average of blood sugar levels, and is a standard test used to diagnose diabetes. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. This test measures how much of your hemoglobin is glycated, or covered in sugar. Since the development of type 2 diabetes is a gradual process, it’s possible to take action as soon as your A1C test shows that you are nearing the prediabetes range.
The most recommended treatment for prediabetes is lifestyle changes such as reduced-calorie diets and exercise; however, these interventions may take some time to significantly affect blood sugar levels, and it is frequently difficult for patients to adhere to these programs. If you are concerned about your risk of prediabetes, or have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, then your focus should certainly be on prevention. If you are already trying to lose weight and increase your physical activity, you may also benefit from supplements that can help control blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity. A few supplements currently on the market may offer these benefits.
Chromium: the trace element that reduces insulin resistance
Chromium is an essential trace element that the body uses to metabolize carbohydrates. Therefore, chromium deficiency can lead to high blood sugar as the body becomes less efficient at using carbohydrates (converted to sugar) for energy. Chromium supplements combined with conventional care have improved blood sugar control in people with diabetes. This trace element works by boosting the effects of insulin and supporting the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Studies have shown that chromium picolinate can reduce insulin resistance and the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Low doses of chromium are generally safe, but higher doses can cause blood sugar to go too low and increase the risk of kidney damage.
Ceylon cinnamon helps to prevent diabetes
You may know cinnamon as the warm, sweet spice commonly added to breakfast treats such as oatmeal and French toast. It may also help to prevent diabetes through several different mechanisms. First, cinnamon is high in antioxidants, which reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress is known to damage cells, contributing to the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon has a more direct benefit for blood sugar control as it may promote the glucose transport into cells, replicating the effects of insulin. It can also increase insulin sensitivity, making your insulin more efficient. Finally, this helpful spice controls blood sugar spikes after meals by slowing the rate at which food moves out of the stomach and blocking enzymes that break down carbohydrates in the small intestine. Other benefits of consuming cinnamon include lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, higher “good” HDL cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
Cinnamon comes in two basic types: Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon, also called “true cinnamon” is more expensive, while Cassia cinnamon is the variety more commonly found in food products containing cinnamon. Not only is Cassia cinnamon low in antioxidants, it also contains a substance called coumarin, which has demonstrated liver toxicity in rat studies. Ceylon cinnamon contains much lower amounts of coumarin, and is high in antioxidants. Therefore, if you choose to take a cinnamon supplement, it would be wise to choose one with Ceylon cinnamon, as the upper limit for safe daily intake is much higher.
Berberine lowers blood sugar
Perhaps the most effective supplement for glucose control is berberine, shown in some studies to be as effective as the popular prescription diabetes drug, Metformin. Berberine is a compound found in the roots and stems of certain plants, such as goldenseal and European barberry. Known for its bitter taste and yellow color, berberine can not only regulate blood sugar, but also strengthen heartbeat, kill bacteria, and reduce swelling. It may also lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and help control high blood pressure when combined with other treatments. In the form of plants that contain this compound, berberine has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-diarrheal, and immune-boosting benefits for millennia.
Animal studies have shown that berberine can slow the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Berberine helps control blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity and increasing the transport of sugar into your muscles from your blood. This supplement is typically taken in 300-500mg doses 2-3 times per day with meals. Side effects include digestive upset, constipation, diarrhea, or gas. Berberine has been shown to reduce not only blood glucose, but also hemoglobin A1C, triglycerides, and insulin. One study showed that berberine reduced post-meal and fasting glucose by up to 30 percent. Some researchers have suggested that berberine may be a viable type 2 diabetes treatment before insulin therapy when taken under doctor supervision. Due to its potent effects on blood sugar, you should consult your doctor if you are currently taking any prescription diabetes medications as combining berberine with these drugs could cause hypoglycemia.
Some high-quality berberine supplements
As the dietary supplement market is largely unregulated, it’s important to choose quality products that are third-party tested and produced with the best manufacturing practices. Ancient Bliss, a unique Texas-based supplement company founded in 2021 by Macy Schuchart, promises quality supplements with no fillers or additives. Schuchart was inspired to produce a line of natural products after a fateful trip to Hawaii, where she learned about the ancient healing practices of the native peoples. Ancient Bliss products are supported by a distinctive blend of indigenous wisdom and applied science. CEO Macy Schuchart is committed to serving and educating her customers about the health benefits of natural supplements. Ancient Bliss offers a high-quality berberine supplement containing Ceylon cinnamon, bitter melon, and green tea. Renue by Science LIPO Berberine is another top berberine supplement that offers 150 mg capsules designed to maximize bioavailability. At $50 for 90 capsules, this product comes at a higher price point.
Vitamin D deficiency: a risk factor for diabetes
Vitamin D has fallen into the limelight recently as deficiency has been associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes. A lesser-known aspect of vitamin D deficiency is that it has been identified as a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes. One study of type 2 diabetes patients showed that 72% of participants were vitamin D deficient. When these patients were given 4500 IU of vitamin D for two months, they showed marked improvements in fasting glucose and A1C. Vitamin D may help prevent type 2 diabetes by supporting the function of pancreatic cells that produce insulin as well as the body’s response to insulin. Vitamin D is created in your skin when you are exposed to direct sunlight. Small amounts of vitamin D occur in oily fish and supplemented foods, such as breakfast cereals, dairy products, and orange juice. Overall, food is not the best vitamin D source, so supplementation is often recommended. When shopping for vitamin D supplements, you should look for D3, or cholecalciferol, the active vitamin form.
Magnesium deficiency: also a culprit
Magnesium deficiency has also been investigated as a risk factor for diabetes, and this essential nutrient it thought to not only improve insulin sensitivity but also help regulate blood pressure. This mineral can be found naturally in bran cereal, some seeds and nuts, and spinach. Studies of healthy people, people with type 2 diabetes, and people with prediabetes showed that magnesium supplementation reduced fasting glucose. For people with prediabetes, magnesium supplementation may improve blood sugar control and help prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.
One study showed that people given 300 mg of magnesium chloride for 16 weeks experienced improved fasting glucose. Recommended magnesium intake for adult women is 320-360 mg, and for adult males it is 410-420 mg. Other sources of magnesium include peanut butter, avocadoes, chicken breast, broccoli, oatmeal, and yogurt. If you are concerned that you might have a magnesium deficiency, you can ask your doctor for a serum magnesium blood test.
An algae that prevents sugar spikes and crashes
Sea Moss, also known as Irish Moss or Chondrus crispus, is a type of red algae typically harvested for its carrageenan content. Carrageenan is used as a thickener for certain food products like ice cream. Sea moss is commonly found on the Atlantic coast of North America, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Often used to boost immunity or improve skin, it may also act as a prebiotic, improving gut health. Studies have shown that sea moss can also lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, supporting heart health. Most notably, this plant product contains iodine, a nutrient that supports your thyroid to produce hormones that regulate metabolism, nerves, and bone growth. It is possible that the iodine content of sea moss promotes weight loss by supporting the thyroid and metabolism. However, you should consult with your doctor before supplementing with iodine, as too much can have a negative effect on your thyroid.
A lesser-known benefit of sea moss is that it may help your body control blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. The carotenoid called fucoxanthin that gives this algae its red-brown color can help reduce blood sugar spikes and crashes. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping your body fight cell-damaging free radicals. Ancient Bliss sells a high-quality, GMP-certified sea moss supplement in capsule form that is free of preservatives, gluten, dairy, and chemicals. Filled with ingredients that support mood, energy, and digestion, this sea moss supplement is offered at a reasonable price and can be taken twice per day with meals. Organics Nature also offers a high-quality sea moss supplement that is sourced from the Saint Lucia Caribbean. Available in capsule form, Organic Sea Moss is also gluten free and 100% natural.
Your health is in your hands
When it comes to diabetes and prediabetes, your health is truly in your own hands. In fact, it is estimated that 9 in 10 cases are preventable through lifestyle changes. While weight loss is the key to diabetes prevention, you can also modify the quality of your diet and try to be more active. Of course, many of us have struggled to lose weight while knowing the risks of excess fat around the waist. Finding the right lifestyle modifications will certainly help, but certain dietary supplements have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, pancreas health, and blood sugar control. Many people have found ways to reverse prediabetes or even type 2 diabetes with healthy practices and good sense. With the right lifestyle and perhaps even a little help from natural products, you can be well on your way to good health.
Important Note: This article does not contain health or medical advice, and the information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease, condition or health problem. Before beginning any program of diet, nutrition or supplementation, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional in order to determine the possible effects on your health, given your individual sensitivities, needs and objectives