The British Rowing team hadn't won the Olympic Gold Medal since 1912. Their bad fortunes were about to change as the 2000 Sydney Olympic Rowing team neared their competition day. This team would go on to win the gold medal despite being the overwhelming underdogs. Yet, as the final race finished, Great Britain's rowing team bested the likes of Australia and Croatia, both considered to be the heavy favorites.
How did they do it? In preparation for the upcoming Olympics, the team decided to make all decisions, both personal and professional, through a simple filtering question - "Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?" Members of the Olympic team started making every day decisions, like 'should I have another beer?', 'should I workout today?', or 'should I stay up late watching a movie?', using this simple guiding question.
This level of fierce intentionality allowed the team to quickly accelerate their unity, skills, conditioning, and training, eventually leading them to the gold medal at the Olympics. This rowing team did not win based on talent, strength, or skill. Rather, they won because they employed the correct strategy that optimized their outcomes.
In the same way, a type 2 diabetic can overcome his disease by employing the correct strategy. This would include a combination of recommendations, which among other things, can include optimizing diet and macronutrient ratio, and intermittent fasting. One can further optimize their diabetes beating strategy through taking certain dietary supplements, which can help stabilize blood sugar and reverse insulin resistance.
Americans commonly use dietary supplements for a variety of ailments. Interestingly, the subset of the population that are diabetic tend to use supplements more frequently than the general population. Diabetics tend to seek out natural remedies more frequently than the rest of the population. In fact, up to 67% of diabetics report using dietary supplements and natural remedies to help fight their diabetes.
That being said, what supplements have been shown to help stabilize blood sugars and reverse diabetes?
Chromium is a trace element which exists in small quantities in the human body. However, a deficiency in chromium may impair a person's ability to process carbohydrates, which can be particularly detrimental in diabetic patients. Though the mechanism by which chromium exerts its benefits are unclear, it may increase insulin sensitivity and improve glucose tolerance. Moreover, chromium appears to play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids in the body, which can not only help manage diabetes, but can also aid in weight loss. Lastly, chromium may enhance the natural effects of insulin and support the production of insulin in the body.
One review of 25 studies demonstrated a modest benefit for supplementing chromium, as it reduced A1C by about 0.6% and decreased fasting blood levels by 21 mg/dl in type 2 diabetic patients. A typical dose of chromium ranges from 200-1000mcg per day. Additionally, chromium can be found naturally in a variety of fruits and vegetables including broccoli, potatoes, green beans, apples and bananas.
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species. It contains an active ingredient called hydroxychalcone, which enhances the activity of insulin, helping to store sugar away in cells throughout the body, thus lowering blood sugar.
Pre-diabetics who took a supplement of cinnamon twice a day for three months experienced a 8.4% percent decrease in fasting blood sugar. Another study of type 2 diabetics, who were given cinnamon supplements in the morning saw up to 14% decrease in fasting blood sugar and up to 0.92% drop in hemoglobin A1c. A1c is a lab value that represents the average of blood sugar levels over the preceding 3 month period.
Cinnamon can be safely supplemented at 1 gram per day taken in divided doses or all at once.
3. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
ALA is a powerful antioxidant vitamin that is produced in the liver and found in some foods such as red meat, organ meats like liver and kidney, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts and tomatoes. ALA improves the action of insulin, thus enhancing the uptake of sugar from the bloodstream into the cells around your body. In other words, ALA helps improve insulin sensitivity. In fact, ALA supplementation can improve insulin sensitivity by up to 20% in patients with type 2 diabetes.
One study gave type 2 diabetics varying levels of ALA ranging from as little as 300 mg to 1200 mg a day along with their normal insulin medications. The study found that, on average, the higher the dose of ALA the study participant took, the greater the decrease in fasting blood sugar and A1C he enjoyed.
A safe dose of ALA can range from 600 mg to 1200 mg per day in divided doses before meals. Be aware that ALA may interfere with therapies used to treat thyroid disorders, and in rare events, can exacerbate hypoglycemia when used in conjunction with insulin.
Research has shown that diabetics often have low levels of magnesium. One study found that magnesium deficiency is 10 times more prevalent in those who are newly diagnosed with diabetes as compared to the general population. Magnesium, it turns out, plays a roll in the metabolism of sugar in the blood stream. It may also help increase the production of insulin while simultaneously enhancing its various functions throughout the body.
One study of magnesium intake demonstrated that magnesium improved fasting blood sugar. In this study, the higher the dose of magnesium, the more fasting blood sugar improved. However, this was only the case for those who entered the study with low magnesium levels.
There are many foods that contain magnesium, such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, chard, spinach, black beans, and yogurt. Also, for most people, magnesium can be supplemented safely at 250-350 mg per day, though it should be taken with food to increase absorption. Be aware that magnesium supplementation can induce the undesirable side effect of diarrhea, with magnesium oxide carrying the largest risk. Magnesium may also interact with certain antibiotics and medications prescribed for a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.
5. Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil supplements, can have heart healthy, preventative effects that are especially important for diabetics, who are a greater risk for experiencing a cardiac event over the long term. Omega 3 fatty acids achieves this by significantly reducing triglycerides, while also improving HDL cholesterol.
One study found that omega 3s are necessary for the proper function of insulin because it reduces inflammation throughout the body while also helping to prevent insulin resistance.
You can achieve the recommended levels of omega 3s by eating 3+ servings of fatty fish per week, which includes mackerel, salmon, herring, oysters, sardines, and anchovies. 1000 mg of combined EPA + DHA can also be easily supplemented using a fish oil product.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with decreased insulin sensitivity and is even considered a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. One study found that 72% of type 2 diabetics were vitamin D deficient at the start of the study. Supplementing with Vitamin D, therefore, may improve the function of insulin, leading to improved blood sugar levels and decreased A1C.
A simple blood test from your doctor's office can determine the appropriate dose for you. Generally, 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily can be safely supplemented over the counter. Even better, however, would be to get at least 20-30 minutes of direct sunlight contact per day, which also generates a considerable amount of vitamin D. If sunburning is a potential issue, start with about 1/2 the amount of time of direct sunlight that it would take for your skin to burn.
Fiber is an important part of the human diet that often gets overlooked. Fiber slows digestion, which in turn slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Moreover, fiber tends to absorb water in the gut, which causes it to expand and create a feeling of fullness and satiation. Lastly, though fiber is not absorbed by the body, healthy bacteria in the gut thrive by consuming dietary fiber. Sadly, as many as 90% of Americans do not get the recommended amount of fiber in their daily diets.
To increase the amount of fiber in the diet, one should consume more legumes, fruits and vegetables. Common foods that are high in fiber include lentils, peas, artichokes, berries, Brussels sprouts, nuts, and seeds. Fiber can very easily be supplemented as well. Of particular note, is an ancient super-fiber called glucomannan which, among other benefits, can promote weight loss, improve cholesterol, and lower blood sugar levels. If supplementing with glucomannan, be sure to start small (1/4 tsp once or twice a day) and work your way up to 1 tsp per day. This form of fiber can be found in both a powder and a capsule form for easy dosing.
Do you really expect me to take all these supplements every day!?
No! As always, the best way to get all necessary vitamins and minerals is through a well-balanced, nutrient dense diet. Another option I generally recommend is to take a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement, which combines many beneficial nutrients into one, convenient dose. One such supplement, tailored for diabetics, is called Metabolic Synergy, which combines many blood sugar lowering agents into one.
One clarification before we wrap up- I do not believe diabetes can be completely reversed using supplementation alone. After all, you cannot out supplement a bad diet. However, supplementation in conjunction with proper diet and lifestyle modifications can certainly be a powerful combination to mitigate and even reverse type 2 diabetes. In next week's article, I will look at the role that exercise can play in curing type 2 diabetes!
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