If you are taking medication to manage blood sugar for type 2 diabetes, it’s natural to wonder if there are supplements or remedies that can help lower blood sugar without medication. While some dietary supplements may support improvements in blood sugar, none of them are backed by enough research and proof to replace medications.
In this article, we’ll discuss some supplements that may impact blood sugar, the evidence behind them, and important things to know before taking them.
Natural Supplements to Lower Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed when blood sugar levels get too high. This happens when the body does not have enough insulin, or resists its actions, causing glucose to stay in the blood instead of going into cells for energy. There are many medications that are used to help the body improve blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, like metformin.
About 8.7% of the U.S. population was diagnosed with diabetes in 2019. Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. People who want to know if supplements can help manage their blood sugar levels may turn to the internet for information. As many as 70% of adults take dietary supplements, and around one-third of those do it to help manage diabetes-related symptoms.
While nutritional supplements may have some benefits, there are also risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements as it does pharmaceutical drugs. Supplements are not as well-studied as medications for effectiveness or safety profiles. While a supplement may seem safe or have few side effects, its safety and effectiveness are not regulated or monitored.
Dietary supplements can interact with other supplements and medications. Before starting any supplements, talk with your medical provider to make sure there are no risks, concerns, or interactions.
Many studies have looked at the benefits of cinnamon for blood sugar control. Some evidence suggests that cinnamon can support a diabetes treatment plan, but in addition to other medications and lifestyle treatments.
There are two types of cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is the most common, but it contains higher levels of a chemical compound called coumarin. When taken in large amounts, this substance can cause liver problems. Ceylon cinnamon does not have as much of this compound. Still, you should be careful about using it to control your blood sugar because dietary supplements are not closely regulated, and sometimes the labels are unclear or incorrect.
Aloe vera is a plant with many uses. The gel or juice from the leaves has been studied for its impact on both fasting glucose levels and hemoglobin A1c. Results found that aloe vera could decrease fasting glucose by 26.6 mg/dL, although results were more pronounced in people with the highest fasting blood sugar levels. Aloe vera was also shown to decrease hemoglobin A1c levels by 1.05%.
The study looked at an aloe vera gel intake of 300–500 mg per day. While this seems promising, aloe vera should be used cautiously if you already take medication to lower blood sugar levels. Aloe can also interact with medications and other supplements.
People who take anticoagulant medications, antiplatelet drugs, or heart medications should not take aloe vera.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that can also be made in the body from hormone-driven processes with the right amount of direct UVB sun exposure. However, most people cannot get enough regular, safe sun exposure to provide adequate vitamin D.
Low levels of vitamin D are linked to many health problems, like problems with the immune system and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes. Still, this doesn’t mean vitamin D supplements treat type 2 diabetes or improve insulin response.
Taking too much vitamin D supplements can lead to toxicity since the body accumulates it and stores it in fat cells. Vitamin D toxicity can lead to serious health complications. Your doctor can order a simple blood test to find out how much vitamin D you have in your body. If your levels are too low, a healthcare provider will recommend a dosage and treatment plan to support normal levels without leading to excess intake.
Magnesium is an important mineral for many body functions, including over 300 enzyme systems, protein breakdown, healthy muscles, and normal nerve function. It is also important for how the body regulates and uses glucose for energy.
Not getting enough magnesium can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes; however, taking magnesium supplements does not prevent it or reverse blood sugar problems. Some research finds that magnesium supplements can improve insulin resistance in people with low magnesium levels. But the study concludes that more research is needed to determine the specific type of magnesium, length of treatment, and dosage to achieve benefits.
Taking too much magnesium in supplement form can lead to diarrhea and intestinal cramping. In extremely large doses of more than 1,000 mg per day, magnesium can have some serious and potentially life-threatening effects. The tolerable upper limit for magnesium from supplements is 350 mg per day.
American ginseng is a plant that originates from North America. It is not the same as Panax ginseng or Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng. American ginseng has not been tested in large trials. Small studies show a slight benefit for improving hemoglobin A1c numbers, but because there were so few study participants, it is not possible to know whether the results would be effective in larger groups of people.
American ginseng can cause headaches and is known to have immune-stimulating properties, so it may interact with medications that are designed to treat immune-related disorders. American ginseng should not be taken by anyone who takes anticoagulant medications.
Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that support the microbiome. The “gut,” where much of the immune system is, is said to be supported with probiotic supplements. While research does confirm the essential role of a healthy gut microbiome for a healthy immune response and disease prevention, including type 2 diabetes, research on specific probiotic supplements to treat blood sugar is limited.
Probiotic supplements can support slight improvements in how the body handles glucose, but the best benefits are seen when they are taken for longer than 8 weeks and when the probiotic supplements contain more than one strain of bacteria. Many probiotic supplements are available, each with different strengths and strain combinations. Since research hasn’t found a specific mix of strains, if you want to try a probiotic, you should ask your doctor for a suggestion.
Gymnema is an herb that is used in traditional Ayurvedic herbal medicine. Research has found that Gymnema has the potential to reduce fasting blood sugar by interacting with beta cells in the pancreas, potentially stimulating more insulin to be released. However, studies with Gymnema have been small, so the quality of research is unclear.
Gymnema has been associated with at least one report of liver damage, and it can interact with other medications.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid, or ALA, is a compound that has vitamin-like properties. Some research has found that it can support nerve health, including diabetic neuropathy. It has antioxidant properties and can be made in the liver. It is also found in some foods, like broccoli and spinach.
Research shows that ALA may also be helpful for blood sugar control alongside other treatments, but studies are ongoing. ALA is generally considered safe and has no side effects when taken appropriately, with daily doses ranging between 200 and 2400 mg.
People should not take ALA if they are pregnant, have liver disease, thiamine deficiency, or a thyroid disorder. Consuming large amounts of alcohol while taking ALA could increase the potential for liver damage.
When to See a Medical Provider
Before taking any supplements to control blood sugar or help treat diabetes, speak with a medical provider. Because supplements and medications can interact and have negative effects on health, it is important to talk about the safety and risks of dietary supplements and natural remedies before starting something new.
Manage Blood Sugar Using K Health
Now you can manage diabetes online, or other conditions, using K Health.
Get care in three easy steps:
- Tell us about yourself.
- Chat with a clinician.
- Manage your condition with medication refills, lab tests, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid. (2022).
Diabetes and dietary supplements. (2018).
Effect of magnesium supplementation on insulin resistance in humans: A systematic review. (2017).
Effect of probiotics on glucose metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. (2016).
Gut microbiota: A new target for T2DM prevention and treatment. (2022).
Interaction between microbiota and immunity in health and disease. (2020).
Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention Options for Type 2 Diabetes: Complementary Health Approaches and Integrative Health (Including Natural Products and Mind/Body Practices) (2021).
Prevalance of diagnosed diabetes. (2022).
Safety and Efficacy of Dietary Supplements for Diabetes. (2021).
Suppression of Oral Sweet Taste Sensation with Gymnema sylvestre Affects Postprandial Gastrointestinal Blood Flow and Gastric Emptying in Humans. (2017).
Toxic hepatitis induced by Gymnema sylvestre, a natural remedy for type 2 diabetes mellitus. (2010).
To what extent does cinnamon administration improve the glycemic and lipid profiles? (2018).