Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, refers to a group of metabolic diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose).
According to the International Diabetes Federation statistics from 2017, an estimated 451 million people worldwide suffer from this ailment, of which about 90 percent have type 2 diabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and Gestational Diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes: In this condintion the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. The exact cause is unknown; however, risk increases with certain factors including family history, genetics, exposure to certain viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus, and vitamin D deficiency.
- Type 2 diabetes: It begins when cells fail to respond to insulin properly. Factors that put you at higher risk include obesity, excess abdominal fat, inactive lifestyle, family history, age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and a history of polycystic ovaries.
- Gestational diabetes: It affects women during pregnancy.
Some of the symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, increased thirst or hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, slow healing process, and frequent infections. If left untreated, it can cause many complications.
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is necessary for your overall health. You can do it with a healthy diet, regular exercise, not using tobacco, maintaining a healthy body weight, and taking the prescribed medications. You can also try some herbs and spices to ease the symptoms and control your blood sugar.
- Supplements and herbs are not regulated by the FDA. Make sure to check for a USP seal, NSF certification, or Consumers Lab seal before buying the product, which goes to certify that the ingredients listed on the label are what’s in the product.
- Always follow up with your doctor/dietitian when considering these herbs because they may have a food/drug interaction. If not recommended by your primary care physician, it is best to listen to him or her.
- Also, note that most spices/herbs need further research to conclusively establish the beneficial claims attributed to them and therefore do not offer guaranteed results.
- These herbs and spices are in no way an alternative for your standard medication regimen and should be used purely as complementary tools along with the doctor-stipulated drugs.
Best Herbs and Spices for Diabetes Management
Here are 10 herbs and spices that have proven to be a welcome addition to a diabetic diet.
1. Combat Diabetes with Cinnamon
Cinnamon contains bioactive components that can help lower blood sugar levels.
A study published in Diabetes Care reported that intake of 1, 3, or 6 g of cinnamon per day reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.
In this study, after 40 days or cinnamon consumption, all three levels of cinnamon reduced the mean fasting serum glucose (18 to 29 percent), triglyceride (23 to 30 percent), LDL cholesterol (7 to 27 percent), and total cholesterol (12 to 26 percent) levels, although changes in HDL cholesterol were not significant.
A 2013 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine and Diabetes Care shows that cinnamon is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. It may have a beneficial effect on fasting plasma glucose, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
In the study, patients were given cinnamon doses in the range of 120 mg/day to 6 g/day for 4 to 18 weeks, which reduced the levels of fasting plasma glucose (−40.52 mg/dL to −8.67 mg/dL).
- You can take 1 to 2 g of cinnamon daily in the form of tea. You can also sprinkle it on your oatmeal and smoothies or use it in cooking and baking.
- Another option is to take cinnamon supplements. However, always consult a doctor for the proper dosage suitable for your condition.
2. Include Fenugreek in Your Diet
Fenugreek is an herb that diabetic people should include in their diets. These seeds are amply supplied with fiber and certain beneficial chemicals.
Fenugreek seeds are considered a diabetic delight as they may improve how the body metabolizes sugar by increasing the amount of insulin released. To further add to its antidiabetic merits, this low GI food contains soluble fiber, which slows down the absorption of carbohydrates and sugars.
In a study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, researchers concluded that there is a positive effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes.
In the study, it was found that the patients who were placed on a dose of 10 g/day fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water for 8 weeks showed a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar (FBS), triglycerides (TG), and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C) (25 percent, 30 percent, and 30.6 percent, respectively).
- Soak 1 to 2 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds in water overnight. The next morning, drink the water and eat the seeds on an empty stomach. Follow this remedy daily.
- You can also eat baked goods made with fenugreek flour.
- Another option is to take a supplement after consulting a doctor.
3. Ginger Can Improve Your Glycemic Control
The antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, and antioxidative properties in ginger are beneficial in controlling blood sugar levels. Ginger also can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidation, and improve cholesterol levels. It even helps with weight loss.
A 2014 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that daily consumption of three 1 g capsules of ginger powder for 8 weeks reduced fasting blood sugar mean by 10.5 percent in patients with type 2 diabetes.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily.
- Also, include fresh or dry ginger in your cooking.
- Another option is to take ginger supplements after consulting your doctor.
4. Turmeric Helps Maintain Optimal Blood Sugar
Turmeric is a good spice to control high blood sugar. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiatherosclerotic, heart-protecting, and weight-reducing actions that help people with diabetes manage blood their sugar levels and reduce complications from the disease.
A 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine highlighted the important role of curcumin, a key component in turmeric, in the prevention and treatment of diabetes and associated disorders.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders clearly indicates the beneficial role of turmeric in controlling glycoconjugates such as glycoproteins and heparan sulfate and the related kidney complications caused by diabetes.
- Include raw or powdered turmeric in your cooking.
- Take a supplement but only after consulting your doctor.
5. Include More Garlic in Your Diet
Garlic also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, thanks to its antidiabetic and hypolipidemic properties. It contains sulfur compounds that protect against oxidative damage and even high cholesterol.
According to a 2011 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, garlic supplementation (300 mg twice daily) with a standard antidiabetic agent (metformin 500 mg twice daily) provides better blood sugar control than the medication alone in people with type 2 diabetes.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders suggests that garlic can help treat diabetes and related cardiovascular diseases.
- Eat 2 or 3 raw garlic cloves daily on an empty stomach.
- Also, include garlic in your cooking or take a supplement after consulting your doctor.
6. Chew on Curry Leaves
Aromatic curry leaves may also be useful in managing high blood sugar. Several minerals in this herb help maintain normal glucose level in the blood. In addition, it influences carbohydrate metabolism. It also reduces the risk of oxidative stress.
An animal study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine highlights the properties of curry leaf powder in controlling the blood glucose and cholesterol levels of diabetic mice.
A 2007 animal study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology indicates that curry leaf extract can help bring down the severity of diabetes. Feeding curry leaves extract at a concentration of 300 mg/kg of body weight to severe diabetic rats for 1 month led to a reduction in their fasting blood glucose by 48.2 percent.
- Chew a few tender curry leaves daily in the morning on an empty stomach.
- You can also add curry leaf powder to your soups or salads.
7. Drink, Eat, or Apply Aloe Vera
Aloe vera gel helps lower fasting blood glucose levels. It contains phytosterols that have antihyperglycemic properties. Due to the presence of trace elements such as magnesium, chromium, zinc, and manganese in it, the plant can also help improve the effectiveness of insulin and thereby the rate of glucose metabolism.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that supplementation of 200 mg of Aloe vera L. gel powder for 3 months along with nutrition counseling significantly reduced blood glucose levels and blood pressure in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Moreover, an improvement in lipid profile was also reported.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders says that use of aloe vera extract in prediabetic patients can reverse impaired blood glucose within four weeks.
- Drink a glass of aloe vera juice prepared with up to 2 tablespoons of aloe gel twice a day to help regulate insulin and lower blood glucose levels naturally. To prepare the juice, simply blend fresh aloe vera gel with a glass of citrus juice like orange juice, or just plain water.
- You can also apply pure aloe vera gel externally to boils and other skin infections to reduce inflammation and irritation.
- Another option is to take an aloe vera supplement but only after consulting your doctor.
8. Cloves can Help Your Odds Against Diabetes
This herb contains antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties that help lower blood glucose levels. It helps prevent some of the complications associated with diabetes, such as renal impairment, heart disease, eye disease, and vascular problems.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology suggests that daily intake of 1 to 3 g of cloves is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes to manage their glucose and total cholesterol levels as serum glucose decreased from 225 ± 67 mg/dL to 150 ± 46 mg/dL after 30 days of consuming cloves.
Simply add a little of this herb to your foods or chew a few cloves daily.
9. Use the Antidiabetic Prowess of Korean Ginseng
The holistic healing of the herb Korean ginseng or Panax ginseng is good for controlling post-meal blood sugar levels. It increases insulin sensitivity and reduces its complications. It even helps in metabolizing carbohydrates, a common problem among people who have type 2 diabetes.
- Drink 1 to 2 cups of Korean ginseng tea daily.
- Alternatively, take 1 to 3 capsules of 500 mg Korean ginseng daily for a couple of months but only after consulting your doctor.
10. A Bit of Oregano Can Make Your Diet Healthier
Oregano is another herb that can help prevent and treat high blood sugar.
A 2016 study conducted on rats published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology says that herbs such as oregano and chamomile showed hypoglycemic effects when administered at a concentration of 300 mg/kg of body weight.
The polyphenols and flavonoids in oregano also help fight inflammation.
- Add a few drops of oregano oil to a glass of water or your favorite juice and drink it once daily.
- Alternatively, drink a cup of oregano tea daily.
- In addition, sprinkle a little dried oregano on your soups, salads, or morning smoothies.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Anne Danahy (Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutritionist)
What home remedies can one use to lower blood sugar levels?
Balance each plate (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) to include a portion of protein like chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, etc, or fat like nuts, seeds or avocado along with some vegetables. When you eat fruit or starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, bread) make sure that portion fits into your hand.
If you do go overboard on your starches or sweets, go for a walk after eating. That helps to lower your blood sugar.
Another tip is to use more cinnamon or take a cinnamon supplement every day. It’s been shown to help lower blood sugar.
Try to stop eating by 6-7 pm. Late night eating tends to result in higher fasting blood sugars.
What vitamins and minerals are beneficial for a person with diabetes?
All are important for everyone because they help your body to work better and turn the food you eat into energy. People with diabetes are at risk of lower magnesium levels, so that’s one I like to supplement with.
People who use metformin to lower blood sugar should also take vitamin B12 because long term use of that medication can lower B12 levels. I always recommend having vitamin D levels checked regularly since many people tend to have low or borderline levels, especially if you don’t spend much time outside in the sun.
Does drinking apple cider vinegar help in reducing blood sugar levels?
Yes! There is research that shows drinking a small amount of apple cider vinegar mixed with water in the morning or after a meal may help to lower blood sugar. Any vinegar will actually work. You can even add it to your salad if you don’t like to drink it.
Are cumin and dill helpful in lowering blood sugar levels?
I’m not aware of any research on this but all herbs and spices have lots of antioxidants, so try to add them whenever you’re cooking.
Curcumin is a compound in turmeric which has been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and this can benefit anyone with diabetes, which tends to develop because of inflammation in the body.
How does exercise help in combating diabetes?
Exercise is very important for everyone, but especially for those with diabetes or prediabetes.
Research shows that if you have prediabetes, a good 30 minutes of brisk exercise most days of the week along with about a 5% reduction in body weight can help prevent diabetes.
I always recommend strength training along with cardio exercise because it helps to develop or maintain muscles and boost your metabolism so you don’t gain weight as easily, as you get older. Muscle also improves insulin sensitivity so that helps to manage your glucose levels as well.
About Anne Danahy MS RDN: Anne is a Scottsdale, AZ-based registered dietitian and integrative nutritionist who specializes in women’s health and healthy aging.
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