A healthy blood sugar level is vital for overall health, but many people don't meet the criteria for being metabolically healthy with normal blood sugar readings. About 1 in 10 men and women have type 2 diabetes, a condition where their fasting blood glucose level is too high. Why is this concerning? Over time, excess sugar in the blood can lead to blood vessel damage that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and even blindness.
Read on to learn how herbs can impact blood sugar health and our recommended list of herbs:
Have You Heard Of Pre-Diabetes?
About one in three people have a fasting blood glucose level that's too high but not yet in the diabetic range. They are considered pre-diabetes and are at a high risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes unless they make the necessary lifestyle changes.
Even healthy people should know their fasting blood glucose level and take steps to avoid weight gain, which worsens blood sugar control. Damage to blood vessels and other organs begins when blood sugar levels are only mildly elevated.
Roughly 1 in 3 people have an elevated fasting blood glucose level within the pre-diabetic range.
Get Out of The Pre-Diabetes Range
Exercise helps with blood sugar control, but so does diet. It's the total composition of your diet that matters most for blood sugar control. There is also evidence that certain foods may modestly improve blood sugar control. One of these food types is an herb.
What's So Special About Herbs?
The medicinal use of herbs has a long history but the majority lack high-quality clinical trials to document their effectiveness. This doesn't mean they aren't beneficial! Because they are plants, herbs have mechanisms for protecting themselves against predators. These include chemical compounds called polyphenols. These polyphenols contain health-promoting properties for humans.
Health Benefits of Polyphenols
Studies show these natural compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that may benefit humans by reducing inflammation and protecting cells against oxidative damage that contributes to chronic health problems and aging. That's why so many nutritionists recommend eating more plant-based foods. These compounds are abundant in colorful fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
Certain herbs reduce the activity of an enzyme called DPP-4, which blocks the activity of hormones called incretins. The two most important incretins are called GLP-1 and GIP. After a meal, incretin hormones tell your pancreas to release insulin to guide glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells where it can be used for energy. When there's more DPP-4 (an incretin hormone blocker) around, it reduces the amount of incretin hormones available to stimulate insulin release, and that means glucose stays in your bloodstream. That's not what you want for good health.
Some healing herbs block DDP-4 and make incretin available to stimulate insulin release. Therefore, blocking DDP4 is favorable for blood sugar control. In fact, some diabetic prescription medications improve blood sugar control by blocking this enzyme. So, you may get some of the benefits that diabetes medications offers by simply incorporating specific herbs into your diet.
Studies have shown that Mexican oregano, rosemary, and marjoram, all reduce the activity of the DPP-4 enzyme.
An Ayurvedic Practitioner's Favorite
An Ayurvedic herb called Gymnema Sylvestre is used by Ayurvedic practitioners to treat diabetes due to its blood-sugar-lowering effects. Other herbs that may modestly lower blood sugar include cinnamon and American ginseng. However, these herbs lack major clinical trials to determine their effectiveness. It's best to talk to your physician before using them, and never use them as a substitute for medical care for diabetes.
How to Get the Maximum Benefits of Herbs
Herbs and spices make even ordinary food taste better, and they supply other health benefits too. By weight, herbs and spices are a richer source of antioxidants and compounds with anti-inflammatory properties than fruits and vegetables. So, enjoy adding these herbs to your diet and they may even help with blood sugar control.
- DiabetesSelfManagement.com. "Incretin Hormone: Definition and Overview"
- J. Agric. Food Chem. 2014, 62, 26, 6147-6158.
- MayoClinic.org. "Prediabetes"
- McKennon SA. Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention Options For Type 2 Diabetes: Diets And Dietary Supplements (Botanicals, Antioxidants, and Minerals). 2018 Jun 18. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, Chrousos G, de Herder WW, Dungan K, Grossman A, Hershman JM, Hofland HJ, Kaltsas G, Koch C, Kopp P, Korbonits M, McLachlan R, Morley JE, New M, Purnell J, Singer F, Stratakis CA, Trence DL, Wilson DP, editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. PMID: 25905290.