Supplements for Stabilizing Glucose

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

I started posting these excerpts at the very start of this year – because some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

Even though it’s the heart of summer now, the Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals (which tend to be “year-round” goals for many of us as well).

I’m almost done with the posts – into the last chapter now and hard at work on my next book, Deadly Antioxidants, which will be released in March 2015.

Please stay tuned for each of the last few installments – or if you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Supplements for Stabilizing Glucose
When most people think of controlling blood sugar, they automatically think about diabetes (which affects about twenty-five million Americans, with 90 to 95 percent of cases manifesting as “Type II” diabetes). At least double that number—more than fifty million Americans—have what might be called “pre-diabetes,” or a dysfunctional or suboptimal control of blood sugar. Most of these people are completely unaware that their blood-sugar levels are fluctuating wildly throughout the day, but they clearly feel the effects in terms of fatigue, problems concentrating, constant hunger, weight gain, and accelerated aging—mostly via glycation, but also via oxidation and inflammation.
Optimal control of blood sugar—and the excessive glycation that can result from improper control—can be greatly enhanced by consuming a number of the dietary supplements outlined below.

Licorice Root
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used by practitioners of traditional medicine around the world for at least four thousand years—especially in Egyptian and Middle-Eastern medicine, where licorice plants are thought to have originated. Licorice roots contain bioactive polyphenols, predominantly glabridin, which possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and glucose-lowering properties. Perhaps the most beneficial effect of licorice/glabridin extracts is their ability to reduce abdominal fat and blood glucose in diabetic or overweight subjects. In one six-week study of moderately overweight men and women, a once-daily glabridin supplement reduced glucose levels by 10 percent, controlled appetite, and induced a one-pound per week loss of body fat, with no significant alterations to diet or exercise patterns.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid has been established by many European and U.S. studies as an important antioxidant and blood-sugar controller. Alpha-lipoic acid has been named “the universal antioxidant,” because it reacts with many different free radicals. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation enhances insulin action and can reduce or reverse oxidative nerve damage caused by elevated blood-sugar levels. In conjunction with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid may be doubly helpful in patients with diabetes. By promoting the production of energy from fat and sugar in the mitochondria, glucose removal from the bloodstream may be enhanced and insulin function improved. Indeed, alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to decrease insulin resistance and is prescribed frequently in Europe as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) associated with diabetes. In the United States, the American Diabetes Association has suggested that alpha-lipoic acid plus vitamin E may be helpful in combating some of the health complications associated with diabetes, including heart disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and kidney disease.

Chromium is a trace mineral that is essential for normal insulin function. Dietary studies indicate that most people in the United States and other industrialized countries don’t get enough chromium, and deficiencies appear to be even more common in people with diabetes and problems with blood-sugar control. Chromium also aids in the metabolism of glucose, regulation of insulin levels, and maintenance of healthy blood levels of cholesterol and other lipids. Chromium forms part of a compound in the body known as glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which is involved in regulating the actions of insulin in maintaining blood-sugar levels and, possibly, in helping control appetite. Food sources include brewer’s yeast, whole-grain cereals, broccoli, prunes, mushrooms, and beer. (Note: Most of the calories in beer come from the alcohol—about 100–150 calories of the total 150–200 calories in a 12 oz beer—while carbs only account for 40–80 calories, depending on the brand of beer. I’m not advocating that diabetics start gulping beer to get their chromium, but beer is one of the “foods” that delivers a decent supply of chromium into the food supply.) Many clinical studies support the benefits and safety of chromium supplementation for normalizing blood sugar. Supplemental chromium can lower blood-insulin levels, improve glucose tolerance, and decrease systemic levels of glycation. Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center recommend chromium supplementation in daily amounts of 200 mcg for optimal blood-sugar control.

Fenugreek is a well-known spice that has been used in Asia and Africa to treat various ailments, including diabetes. The active, blood-sugar lowering principles of fenugreek have not been entirely elucidated, but dietary fiber and saponins (which are also antioxidants) may contribute. Fenugreek seeds contain an amino acid (4-hydroxyisoleucine) that may stimulate insulin secretion (direct beta-cell stimulation) and help control blood-sugar levels. Interestingly, fenugreek extract also appears to improve testosterone levels and restore the balance between testosterone and cortisol in stressed subjects.

Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is a plant used medicinally in India and Southeast Asia for treatment of “sweet urine,” or what we refer to in the West as diabetes or hyperglycemia. In ancient Indian texts, gymnema is referred to as “gurmar,” which means “sugar killer” in Sanskrit. Gymnema leaves, whether extracted or infused into a tea, suppress glucose absorption and reduce the sensation of sweetness in foods—effects that may deliver important health benefits for individuals who want to reduce blood-sugar levels. Gymnema sylvestre leaves contain gymnemic acids, which are known to suppress transport of glucose from the intestine into the bloodstream, and a small protein, gurmar, that can interact with receptors on the tongue to decrease the sensation of sweetness in many foods. Modern scientific methods have isolated at least nine different fractions of gymnemic acids that possess hypoglycemic activity. The effect of gymnema extract on lowering blood levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides is fairly gradual—typically taking a few days to several weeks. Very high doses of the dried gymnema leaves may even help repair the cellular damage that causes (and is caused by) excessive blood-sugar exposure. Several human studies conducted on gymnema for treatment of diabetes have shown significant reduction in blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin (an index of blood-sugar control), and insulin requirements (so insulin therapy could be reduced). Gymnema appears to increase the effectiveness of insulin rather than causing the body to produce more, although the precise mechanism that causes this remains unknown.

Indian Daisy
Indian daisy (Sphaeranthus indicus) is a medicinal plant that grows in India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. Traditional uses include brewing tea from the flowers as a treatment for diabetes and hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar). The blood sugar–lowering effect of Indian daisy flower extract is similar to that of insulin, which improves glucose transport from the blood into body cells. The blood sugar–regulating properties of Indian daisy have been demonstrated in studies of isolated cells in animals and humans. In isolated cells, flower extracts are known to stimulate glucose uptake. Feeding diabetic mice, rats, and rabbits Indian-daisy flower reduces elevated blood sugar and returns insulin levels to normal. In humans with moderate abdominal obesity, Indian-daisy flower extract, taken for eight to twelve weeks, has been shown to reduce blood-sugar levels by up to 30 percent and help subjects maintain a tighter control of blood-sugar fluctuations, which helps control appetite and encourage weight loss without significant dietary alterations.

Panax (Asian) Ginseng
Panax gensing has a more than one-thousand-year history as a folk remedy in China and Korea. In addition to its effects in controlling cortisol as an adaptogen against stress, various animal studies show that Panax ginseng can lower blood sugar, improve glucose utilization, and increase insulin production. A placebo-controlled clinical study showed that Panax ginseng extracts reduce hemoglobin glycosylation and improve glucose tolerance without side effects.

Vanadium is another trace element involved in promoting normal insulin function. A normal diet typically provides about 10 to 30 mcg of vanadium per day. Although no RDA for this element has been established, this amount appears to be adequate for most healthy adults. Vanadium is thought to play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and may have functions in cholesterol and blood-lipid metabolism. In diabetics, vanadium supplements may have a positive effect in regulating blood-glucose levels. Food sources of vanadium include seafood, mushrooms, some cereals, and soybeans. Through its insulin-mimetic effect, vanadium is thought to promote glycogen synthesis and help maintain blood-glucose levels. Vanadyl-sulfate supplements have been shown to normalize blood glucose levels and reduce glycosylated hemoglobin levels and can reduce fasting glucose levels by about 20 percent.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral for immune function, antioxidant protection, and reproduction. Three out of four people do not get the recommended intakes for zinc. Zinc supplementation is especially important for reducing glycation, because it also promotes normal insulin function. However, to avoid unwanted nutrient interactions, zinc should not be supplemented in high doses (for example, above 45 mg daily) and is best taken in balance with other trace elements, such as copper (2 mg of copper for every 15 mg of zinc).


About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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