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Alternative Medicine and Management of Type 2 Diabetes

By Laurie Marbas, M.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017


Several supplements have been studied for their value in managing Type 2 diabetes:

1) Chromium: It is an insulin cofactor, meaning that it helps insulin work. It increases the glucose transporter’s presence at the cell membrane. It is understood that chromium is necessary for blood glucose control, but controversial as to whether additional chromium is beneficial in treatment of Type 2 diabetes. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for chromium is 25 mcg per day for women and 35 mcg per day for men who are 19 to 50 years old. For those over 50, the recommendation is 30 mcg for men and 20 mcg for women.

2) Magnesium: A meta-analysis (a study that combines results of multiple independent studies) found that oral magnesium supplementation may decrease fasting glucose and improve HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol) concentrations. Magnesium increases insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion. Foods rich in magnesium are whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, avocados and certain bean varieties.

3) Botanicals: Botanicals for treatment of Type 2 diabetes are still under investigation, but they show promise. The common medication metformin, for example, was developed from the botanical Galega officinalis.

4) Alpha-lipoic acid shows promise for improving diabetic neuropathy through its antioxidant effects. Sources of alpha-lipoic acid include spinach, broccoli, yams, potatoes, yeast, tomatoes, beets and carrots.


1) Cassia cinnamon in studies cut Type 2 diabetics’ and pre-diabetics’ fasting glucose levels by 10 to 29 percent. The glucose-lowering effects appeared to be dose-dependent, meaning cinnamon is ineffective until a certain amount is reached. There was no change in blood glucose at 1.8 g/d, but a definite improvement at 3 g/d. Cinnamon contains polyphenol polymers that act like insulin and this may explain why cinnamon has been found to lower blood glucose concentrations.

2) American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L) has been found to decrease post-meal blood glucose concentrations in both Type 2 diabetics and non-diabetics. There are several mechanisms responsible for the blood glucose-lowering effects of American ginseng, including slowing digestion of food, improvement of glucose uptake into cells and increasing insulin secretion.

Other Alternatives

1) Acupuncture has been shown to improve peripheral neuropathy when compared to a placebo.

2) Biofeedback and meditation were found to improve hemoglobin A1c in a small, randomized control trial. The A1c dropped from 7.4 to 6.8 percent in individuals who had persistent elevated blood glucose levels the previous three months.

Always Consult Your Health Care Provider

It is understandable that individuals who are suffering from any chronic illness will seek any possibility to improve their clinical situation. However, it is very important that individuals seek the advice of their health care provider or physician prior to taking any supplement or herbal remedy. Type 2 diabetics who are taking glucose-lowering medications are at especially great risk of hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar levels, and therefore need to remain mindful of potential side effects of supplements and herbs.

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