We live in a world where prescription medicine is getting more and more expensive as well as controversial. Alternative medicine is gaining momentum and with good reason! The same is true for treatments for diabetes type 2. You have therapies that can reverse diabetes through lifestyle and diet changes, natural supplements that can help stabilize blood sugar levels, and also herbs that lower blood sugar. Not only are these alternative therapies safer, but they are also easier on your pocket, on your body and mind.
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is necessary for the body’s overall health. Erratic blood sugar levels can affect the body’s ability to function normally and even lead to complications if left unchecked. Some herbs and spices found in nature do a tremendous job of naturally lowering blood sugar levels, making them a boon for diabetics and pre-diabetics. What’s more, being nature’s multi-taskers, herbs and spices also produce overall health benefits beyond just helping balance blood sugar.
We want to clarify one thing right away – not everything on our list can be classified as ‘herbs’. However, they are all from natural sources.
Herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant.
Spices are parts of the plant other than the leafy bit, such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best herbs that lower blood sugar, along with a few spices thrown in, to give you a more comprehensive list. Please note that while we normally do not use animal studies to support any dietary supplement, several herbs like garlic and ginger are considered ‘food’ and so, are used traditionally by cultures across the world in their daily diet for their additional medical benefits. So human lab research studies on these are not always available. You can check all available studies under ‘References’ at the end of the article.
This powerful herb promotes glucose utilization in the cells thus lowering blood glucose. It also prevents the liver from releasing more glucose into the blood stream, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. Some people feel Gymnema Sylvestre is one of the most powerful herbs for treating high blood glucose – both type 1 and 2 diabetics. Also Gymnema Sylvestre may help rejuvenate beta cells in the pancreas thus helping heal the condition.
Gymnema Sylvestre is a vine native to Central & South India. Used in traditional Indian medicine since the 6th century BC, the leaves of this plant contain ‘gymnemic acids’ that have the amazing ability to slow down the transport of glucose from the intestines to the bloodstream. Some scientists even believe that Gymnema Sylvestre extract can help repair and regenerate pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin!
There was a clinical trial conducted at Department of Biochemistry, Postgraduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences Madras, India that studied 22 patients with type 2 diabetes. It reported that supplementing the body with 400 mg of Gymnema Sylvestre extract daily resulted in remarkable reductions in blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1c and glycosylated plasma protein levels. What’s even more remarkable is that by the end of this 18 month study, participants were able to reduce the dosage of their prescription diabetes medication. Five were even completely off medication and attaining stable blood sugar levels with Gymnema Sylvestre supplementation alone.
Other research conducted at the same institute studied possible regeneration of the islets of langerhans in rats that were made diabetic for the study and then given gymnema sylvestre leaf extracts. The diabetic rats were able to double the number of their islets and beta cell numbers. Researchers felt that the herbal therapy was able to bring blood sugar stability by repairing the pancreas and increasing insulin secretion.
According to studies, cinnamon may have a positive effect on the glycemic control and the lipid profile in patients with diabetes mellitus type 2. This is because it contains 18% polyphenol content in dry weight. This popular Indian spice can improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. According to a study published in Journal Of The American Board Of Family Medicine, “cinnamon lowered HbA1C by 0.83% compared with standard medication alone lowering HbA1C 0.37%. Taking cinnamon could be useful for lowering serum HbA1C in type 2 diabetics with HbA1C >7.0 in addition to usual care.”
Cloves protect the heart, liver and lens of the eye of diabetic rats, according to studies. This spice contains 30% of the antioxidant phenol in dry weight, along with antioxidants anthocyanins and quercetin. As a result, cloves have antiseptic as well as germicidal properties. It also offers anti-inflammatory, analgesic and digestive health benefits for diabetics.
Another study done with 36 participants with T2D divided into four groups wherein they were given 0, 1, 2 or 3 g of cloves/day for 30 days followed by a 10-day washout period had the following results.
An aromatic herb that is used commonly to add flavor and aroma to meats and soups, Rosemary also helps normalize blood sugar levels naturally. It promotes weight loss as well, which is a double boon for many diabetics who struggle with weight issues. A research conducted in Jordan to study the effects of rosemary on lipid profile in diabetic rats proved that rosemary has no significant influence on serum glucose level and lipid profile of normal rats. But when rosemary extract was administered to diabetic rats for 4 weeks, their blood sugar levels reduced by 20%, cholesterol levels by 22%, triglyceride levels by 24%, and LDL by 27% while HDL increased by 18% respectively. The study was published in African Journal of Plant Science Vol. 6 in 2012.
Popular in Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean cooking, oregano is considered one of the best herbs to lower blood sugar levels.
A Mexican study on “Inhibition of Advanced Glycation End-Product Formation by Origanum majorana L. In Vitro and in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats” revealed that that oregano alleviated oxidative stress under diabetic conditions through the inhibition of lipid peroxidation. Oregano may also prevent and/or delay the onset of renal damage.
So don’t skimp on the herb when you’re cooking a meal next time!
Sage can have metformin-like effects, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. So you may want to consider cooking with this herb often. It has been used on traditional medicine for centuries, as one of the important herbs to reduce blood sugar. A word of warning – taking high doses of sage along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low, a condition called hypoglycemia. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
Another popular ingredient in the Indian spice rack, curry leaves help to stabilize blood glucose levels and impact carbohydrate metabolism. An Indian study published in International Journal of Development Research studied in detail the effects curry leaves have on diabetes type 2. According to the research data, curry leaves contain a phytochemical that can help control blood sugar level in patients with Diabetes type 2 by reducing fasting and postprandial blood sugar level. Diabetic rats given a dose of about 12gm /day for a month revealed that curry leaves may treat diabetes by influencing carbohydrate metabolism and improving liver and kidney function. Also, the amazing antioxidant properties of curry leaves can boost pancreatic cell production, thereby improving insulin function.
A 2005 study on the anti-diabetic effect of garlic in normal and lab-induced diabetic rats, published in the journal Phytomedicine, found that oral administration significantly decreased serum glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, urea, uric acid, creatinine, AST and ALT levels. While it increased serum insulin in diabetic rats, this was not so in the case of normal rats. It concluded that garlic must be considered as an excellent candidate for future human studies on diabetes mellitus. What’s better, garlic also helps reduce high cholesterol levels, a complication that diabetics often face. This makes it an excellent spice to use for in all recipes!
A spice that is popular for soothing your stomach and aiding digestion, Ginger also has the ability to normalize blood sugar levels. Multiple studies conducted on rats show that ginger extract can have a significant anti-hyperglycemic effect. It lowers serum total cholesterol, triglycerides and increases the HDL-cholesterol levels. Diabetes is a digestive disorder. Diabetics often face issues with acid reflux. Ginger soothes the entire digestive tract, giving diabetics another reason to add ginger to their supplement regimen.
A popular spice used in Indian cooking, and the main ingredient of ‘curry’ that has taken the world by storm, turmeric has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that all come together to help diabetics manage more stable blood sugar levels. It helps boost immunity and prevent infections that diabetics are often vulnerable to. Studies conducted on rats prove that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is effective in reducing plasma glucose level and HbA1C as well as improving the lipid profile. Many diabetics also suffer from arthritis, since the sugar laden blood and inflammatory processes typical to diabetes often damage joints. Turmeric, with its anti-inflammatory abilities, also helps with these joint pains.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose in the small intestine which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Spices like Cayenne pepper stimulate glucose absorption from the small intestine, according to a Hungarian study published in the March 18, 2006 issue of the “European Journal of Pharmacology”. Add a bit to cayenne pepper to your home-cooked meals to stabilize your blood sugar levels naturally. The entire pepper family – including bell peppers, chilli peppers, and cayenne are known to help fight inflammation. That is why they are prized in several Asian culinary traditions. Use Cayenne wisely to get its anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
One of the lesser known herbs that lower blood sugar, Marjoram, is high in polyphenols, which aids in stabilizing blood glucose levels. A 2012 study in the Journal of Evidence Based Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that Marjoram reduced formation of Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products. AGE is the smoking gun that researchers today say is responsible for a lot of the complications that diabetics face, like damage to arteries and eyes. Try sprinkling marjoram on your dinner every night to help add variety in flavor. It can often be used as a substitute for oregano in cooking and brings in a distinct flavor to dishes.
Multiple studies show that Fenugreek seeds help lower blood sugar by slowing down the process of digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine. This action is similar to the prescription drug Acarbose.
A 2012 review of ginseng in animals and human beings found that not only does ginseng reduce insulin resistance, it also lowers HbA1C levels. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as one of the most potent herbs for blood sugar control. Indian ginseng, also called Ashwagandha, offers fantastic all round benefits. Scientists are also researching the connection between diabetes and Alzhiemer’s. Panax Ginseng is a type of ginseng that is able to help with both diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
It’s not just easy, but also tasty to add spices and herbs that lower blood sugar to your diet. Most of these can be used in everyday recipes. If you are looking for inspiration on how to start cooking with these, try out these recipes from our recipe section – Mushroom-stuffed Turkey, Stuffed Peppers, Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Pizza, Courgette Carrot & Tomato Frittata, Moussaka, Vegetable Stir Fry, and Roasted Butternut Squash