10 Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar

by Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD

Scientists are testing many different supplements to determine if they help lower blood sugar. Such supplements could benefit people with prediabetes or diabetes — particularly type 2 diabetes.

Over time, taking a supplement alongside diabetes medication may enable your doctor to decrease your medication dose — though supplements likely can’t replace medication entirely. Here are 10 supplements that may help lower blood sugar.

10 Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar

1. Cinnamon

Cinnamon supplements are either made from whole cinnamon powder or an extract. Many studies suggest it helps lower blood sugar and improves diabetes control (12).

When people with prediabetes — meaning a fasting blood sugar of 100–125 mg/dl — took 250 mg of cinnamon extract before breakfast and dinner for three months, they experienced an 8.4 percent decrease in fasting blood sugar compared to those on a placebo (3).

In another three-month study, people with type 2 diabetes who took either 120 or 360 mg of cinnamon extract before breakfast saw an 11 percent or 14 percent decrease in fasting blood sugar, respectively, compared to those on a placebo (2).

Additionally, their hemoglobin A1C — a three-month average of blood sugar levels — decreased by 0.67 percent or 0.92 percent, respectively. All participants took the same diabetes drug during the study (2).

How it worksCinnamon may help your body’s cells better respond to insulin. In turn, this allows sugar into your cells, lowering blood sugar (4).

Taking it: The recommended dose of cinnamon extract is 250 mg twice a day before meals. For a regular (non-extract) cinnamon supplement, 500 mg twice a day may be best (25).

Precautions: The common Cassia variety of cinnamon contains more coumarin, a compound that may harm your liver in high amounts. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is low in coumarin (6).

2. American Ginseng

American ginseng, a variety grown primarily in North America, has been shown to decrease post-meal blood sugar by about 20 percent in healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes (7).

Additionally, when people with type 2 diabetes took one gram of American ginseng 40 minutes before breakfast, lunch and dinner for two months while maintaining their regular treatment, their fasting blood sugar decreased 10 percent compared to those on a placebo (7).

How it works: American ginseng may improve your cells’ response to and increase your body’s secretion of insulin (68).

Taking it: Take one gram up to two hours before each main meal — taking it sooner may cause your blood sugar to dip too low. Daily doses higher than three grams don’t appear to offer additional benefits (6).

Precautions: Ginseng can decrease the effectiveness of warfarin, a blood thinner, so avoid this combination. It may also stimulate your immune system, which could interfere with immunosuppressant drugs (6).

3. Probiotics

Damage to your gut bacteria — such as from taking antibiotics — is associated with an increased risk of several diseases, including diabetes (9). Probiotic supplements, which contain beneficial bacteria or other microbes, offer numerous health benefits and may improve your body’s handling of carbohydrates (10).

In a review of seven studies in people with type 2 diabetes, those who took probiotics for at least two months had a 16-mg/dl decrease in fasting blood sugar and a 0.53 percent decrease in A1C compared to those on a placebo (10).

People who took probiotics containing more than one species of bacteria had an even greater decrease in fasting blood sugar of 35 mg/dl (10).

How it works: Animal studies suggest that probiotics may decrease blood sugar by reducing inflammation and preventing the destruction of pancreatic cells that make insulin. Several other mechanisms may be involved as well (910).

Taking it: Try a probiotic with more than one beneficial species, such as a combination of L. acidophilus, B. bifidum and L. rhamnosus. It’s unknown whether there’s an ideal mix of microbes for diabetes (10).

Precautions: Probiotics are unlikely to cause harm, but in certain rare circumstances they could lead to serious infections in people with significantly impaired immune systems (11).

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera may also help those trying to lower their blood sugar. Supplements or juice made from the leaves of this cactus-like plant could help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C in people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes (6).

In a review of nine studies in people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with aloe for four to 14 weeks decreased fasting blood sugar by 46.6 mg/dl and A1C by 1.05 percent (12). People who had fasting blood sugar above 200 mg/dl before taking aloe experienced even stronger benefits (12).

How it works: Mouse studies indicate that aloe may stimulate insulin production in pancreatic cells, but this hasn’t been confirmed. Several other mechanisms may be involved (613).

Taking it: The best dose and form are unknown. Common doses tested in studies include 1,000 mg daily in capsules or two tablespoons (30 ml) daily of aloe juice in split doses (1314).

Precautions: Aloe can interact with several medications, so check with your doctor before using it. It should never be taken with the heart medicine digoxin (15).

5. Berberine

Berberine isn’t a specific herb, but rather a bitter-tasting compound taken from the roots and stems of certain plants, including goldenseal and phellodendron (16).

A review of 27 studies in people with type 2 diabetes observed that taking berberine in combination with diet and lifestyle changes reduced fasting blood sugar by 15.5 mg/dl and A1C by 0.71 percent compared to diet and lifestyle changes alone or a placebo (16). The review also noted that berberine supplements taken alongside diabetes medication helped lower blood sugar more than medication alone (16).

How it works: Berberine may improve insulin sensitivity and enhance sugar uptake from your blood into your muscles, which helps lower blood sugar (17).

Taking it: A typical dose is 300–500 mg taken two to three times daily with major meals (17).

Precautions: Berberine may cause digestive disturbances, such as constipation, diarrhea or gas, which may be improved with a lower (300 mg) dose. Berberine may interact with several medications, so check with your doctor before taking this supplement (1718).

6. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is considered a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes (19).

In one study, 72 percent of participants with type 2 diabetes were deficient in vitamin D at the start of the study (20). After two months of taking a 4,500-IU supplement of vitamin D daily, both fasting blood sugar and A1C improved. In fact, 48 percent of participants had an A1C that showed good blood sugar control, compared to only 32 percent before the study (20).

How it worksVitamin D may improve the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin and increase your body’s responsiveness to insulin (2122).

Taking it: Ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test to determine the best dose for you. The active form is D3, or cholecalciferol, so look for this name on supplement bottles (23).

Precautions: Vitamin D may trigger mild to moderate reactions with several types of medications, so ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance (23).

7. Gymnema

Gymnema sylvestre is an herb used as a diabetes treatment in the Ayurvedic tradition of India. The Hindu name for the plant — gurmar — means “sugar destroyer” (6).

In one study, people with type 2 diabetes taking 400 mg of gymnema leaf extract daily for 18–20 months experienced a 29 percent decrease in fasting blood sugar. A1C decreased from 11.9 percent at the start of the study to 8.48 percent (24).

Further research suggests that this herb may help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C in type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes and may reduce cravings for sweets by suppressing the sweet-taste sensation in your mouth (2526).

How it worksGymnema sylvestre may reduce sugar absorption in your gut and promote cells’ uptake of sugar from your blood. Due to its impact on type 1 diabetes, it’s suspected that Gymnema sylvestre may somehow aid insulin-producing cells in your pancreas (626).

Taking it: The suggested dose is 200 mg of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract twice a day with meals (24).

PrecautionsGymnema sylvestre can enhance the blood sugar effects of insulin, so use it only with a doctor’s guidance if you take insulin injections. It may also affect blood levels of some drugs, and one case of liver damage has been reported (27).

8. Magnesium

Low blood levels of magnesium have been observed in 25–38 percent of people with type 2 diabetes and are more common in those who don’t have their blood sugar under good control (28).

In a systematic review, eight of 12 studies indicated that giving magnesium supplements for six to 24 weeks to healthy people or those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes helped reduce fasting blood sugar levels, compared to a placebo.

Furthermore, each 50mg increase in magnesium intake produced a three percent decrease in fasting blood sugar in those who entered the studies with low blood magnesium levels (29).

How it worksMagnesium is involved in normal insulin secretion and insulin action in your body’s tissues (29)

Taking it: Doses provided to people with diabetes are typically 250–350 mg daily. Be sure to take magnesium with a meal to improve absorption (2930).

Precautions: Avoid magnesium oxide, which can increase your risk of diarrhea. Magnesium supplements may interact with several medications, such as some diuretics and antibiotics, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking it (31).

9. Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, is a vitamin-like compound and powerful antioxidant produced in your liver and found in some foods, such as spinach and broccoli (32). When people with type 2 diabetes took 300, 600, 900 or 1,200 mg of ALA alongside their usual diabetes treatment for six months, fasting blood sugar and A1C decreased more as the dose increased (32).

How it works: ALA may improve insulin sensitivity and your cells’ uptake of sugar from your blood, though it may take a few months to experience these effects. It may also protect against oxidative damage caused by high blood sugar (32).

Taking it: Doses are generally 600–1,200 mg daily, taken in divided doses before meals (32).

Precautions: ALA may interfere with therapies for hyperthyroid or hypothyroid disease. Avoid very large doses of ALA if you have vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency or struggle with alcoholism (3334).

10. Chromium

Chromium deficiency reduces your body’s ability to use carbs — converted into sugar — for energy and raises your insulin needs (35).

In a review of 25 studies, chromium supplements reduced A1C by about 0.6 percent in people with type 2 diabetes, and the average decrease in fasting blood sugar was around 21 mg/dl, compared to a placebo (636).

A small amount of evidence suggests that chromium may also help lower blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes (37).

How it works: Chromium may enhance the effects of insulin or support the activity of pancreatic cells that produce insulin (6).

Taking it: A typical dose is 200 mcg per day, but doses up to 1,000 mcg per day have been tested in people with diabetes and may be more effective. The chromium picolinate form is likely absorbed best (63638).

Precautions: Certain drugs — such as antacids and others prescribed for heartburn — can reduce chromium absorption (35).

The Bottom Line

Many supplements — including cinnamon, ginseng, other herbs, vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics and plant compounds like berberine — may help lower blood sugar. Keep in mind that you may experience different results than what studies have found, based on factors such as duration, supplement quality and your individual diabetes status.

Discuss supplements with your doctor, especially if you’re taking medicine or insulin for diabetes, as some of the above supplements may interact with medications and raise the risk of blood sugar dropping too low. In some cases, your doctor may need to decrease your diabetes medication dose at some point.

Try only one new supplement at a time and check your blood sugar regularly to follow any changes over several months. Doing so will help you and your doctor determine the impact.

Related at Care2

Images via Getty

26 comments

Christine Stewart

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Teresa W
Teresa W12 days ago

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Ruth S
Ruth S17 days ago

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Frances G
Frances G17 days ago

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Debbi W
Debbi W17 days ago

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Lesa D
Lesa DiIorio17 days ago

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Paula A
Paula A18 days ago

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Leo C
Leo Custer18 days ago

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hELEN h
hELEN hEARFIELD18 days ago

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Danuta W
Danuta W18 days ago

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