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Alternative Medicine: The Role of Herbs And Supplements in Diabetes Care

separator As interest in alternative medicine grows, it makes sense that people with diabetes want to explore all their options for managing their condition. There are herbs and supplements that seem to have a positive effect on blood sugar. But it’s important to remember that so far, researchers have yet to discover an alternative medicine that can treat diabetes on its own.

Here’s a list of herbs and supplements you may want to consider trying. But be careful! Do not try these products until you’ve talked with your doctor. They may interfere with other medications you’re currently taking, and they may cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Talk with your doctor about dosages, brand recommendations and forms of these supplements that would benefit you best.

Herbs, vitamins and minerals that may lower blood sugar levels:
  • Oral aloe gel
  • Bilberry leaf
  • Bitter melon (avoid extracts containing seed, roots or leaves)
  • Cinnamon
  • Fenugreek (fresh or dried leaves, whole or crushed dry-roasted seeds; ground spice; capsules)
  • Ginseng (use with caution, because it may interfere with blood-thinning medications and increase high blood pressure)
  • Gymnema (whole leaves, tablets, capsules)
  • Nopal cactus (raw stems and leaves; extracts)
  • Chromium (ask your doctor how many milligrams to take, if you should take it at all)
  • Vanadium (100 milligrams per day may lower blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity)

To reduce diabetes symptoms

  • Bilberry fruit (for damage caused by retinopathy)
  • Evening primrose oil (oil, capsules and tablets—for symptoms of nerve damage)
  • Alpha-lipoic acid (intravenous and oral—for symptoms of nerve damage)

For heart health

  • Aloe oral gel
  • Bilberry leaf and fruit
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Fenugreek 
  • Flaxseed
  • Chromium
  • Fish oil, for omega-3 fatty acids
  • Folate
  • Magnesium
  • Vanadium
  • Niacin


  • Ephedra (may cause heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, sudden death)
  • Kava (may cause severe liver damage)

Don’t forget the antioxidants
Antioxidants are vitamins that can help counter the effects of “free radicals,” which can cause cell damage. People with diabetes need antioxidants, because high blood sugar can increase production of free radicals. Good sources include:

  • Apricots Peanut butter
  • Berries Peppers
  • Broccoli Red grapes
  • Carrots Sweet potatoes
  • Citrus fruits Black and green tea
  • Garlic Tomatoes

International Diabetes Center. A Guide to Herbs and Supplements in Diabetes. Park Nicollet Institute, Minneapolis, 2003.
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