If your doctor has mentioned that your fasting blood sugar or your A1C (a 3-month blood sugar average) is a bit higher than normal, you may be on your way to developing diabetes.
Before you panic, it’s important to know that it’s possible to reduce your blood sugar naturally. If you’re proactive about making changes in your diet and lifestyle and adding a few supplements if needed, you can probably prevent diabetes – or at least hold it off for a long time.
Let’s start with a few scary statistics:
- 30.3 million people (about 9.4% of the U.S. population) have diabetes (1)
- Another 7.2 million people have it but haven’t been diagnosed (1)
- More than 84 million American adults have prediabetes (2)
- People with diabetes spend 2.3 times more on healthcare compared to those without the disease (2)
As you get older, the risk of diabetes increases.
Here’s why you should care: Diabetes increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s also a major cause of nerve damage in your feet, hands or even your stomach, problems with your eyesight, and kidney failure. Diabetes also hits you hard in your wallet because of the added doctor visits, bloodwork, and medications needed to manage and monitor it.
What’s your blood glucose?
A normal blood sugar is defined as fasting glucose less than 100 mg/dl, or an A1C less than 5.7%.
A diagnosis of diabetes is made when your fasting glucose is greater than 125 mg/dl, or your A1C is over 6.5%.
If you’re stuck in the middle, with a fasting glucose between 100 and 125 mg/dl and an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4%, you probably have prediabetes. Have it checked more than once, just in case, but if it’s confirmed, you’re not alone.
Most of us know a few – or many – friends or family members who are in the same boat. In fact, I talk to so many people who have a family history of diabetes, they just assume it will happen to them. But it doesn’t have to.
If you’re willing to do the work, there are ways to lower your blood sugar naturally and prevent diabetes. Here’s how:
First, eat less carbs throughout the day
If you’re developing diabetes, it means your insulin isn’t working as well as it should and you’re becoming insulin-resistant. Insulin is the hormone that shuttles glucose (the digested form of carbohydrates) from your blood and into your cells. If you eat fewer carbohydrate-rich foods, you’ll have less glucose available in your blood, and your insulin won’t have to work as hard.
You can try a very low carb or keto diet for a few months if you want to crack down and even lose some weight, but many find it hard to stick to. Most people see an improvement in their blood sugar (and some weight loss too) if they just cut back to about 20-30 grams of carbohydrate at each meal. That’s a low carb diet, but not keto because you can still have lots of vegetables plus one small serving of fruit, legumes, OR a whole grain like oats, farro or quinoa at each meal.
Remember that carbs aren’t bad. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole, unprocessed grains provide good carbs, that your body loves for slow-burning fuel and long-lasting energy. However, most of us eat too many of the wrong kind of carbs, from sweets and refined breads, cereals, and other “white stuff.” Those kinds of carbs get digested way too quickly, and make our insulin work overtime.
Next, increase your physical activity
We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know that it lowers your blood sugar when you do it? Yep. When you get your heart rate up doing any kind of cardio activity, your muscles use more of that glucose up. In addition, when you build your muscles, your body becomes more sensitive to the effects of insulin – or less insulin-resistant.
im for about 200 minutes of cardio activity (the kind that gets your heart rate up) AND 2-3 strength training sessions each week.
200 minutes might sound like a lot, but remember you can spread it out over the week. About 30 minutes a day, or 40 minutes 5 times each week of cardio (think brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, dancing, etc) is great. Adding in those strength training sessions builds muscle, which boosts your metabolism and reduces insulin resistance.
Third, get a good night’s sleep – every night
A good body of evidence has shown that people who don’t sleep well – or those who work the overnight shift, have a greater risk of developing diabetes. Loss of even one night’s sleep has a negative effect on how insulin works. (3,4)
Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep each night. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body becomes insulin-resistant and your brain and muscles don’t use glucose as well as they should. Lack of sleep also messes with the hormones that control your appetite, (4) so you’ll end up with uncontrollable cravings (I’m looking at you cookies, ice cream and chips) which leads to weight gain, and more insulin resistance.
If you’re not a good sleeper, make that a priority ASAP! Check out this post for tips on how to sleep better.
Fourth, take steps to reduce your stress
Stress impacts your blood sugar in several ways.
- It’s a major reason many people have trouble sleeping
- When you’re feeling stressed, you tend to crave more carbs and sugary foods
- Most importantly, when you’re under persistent stress, your cortisol levels tend to stay too high
Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone that we’ve all experienced when we face something stressful. It causes our heart to beat faster and blood pressure to increase. In addition, our insulin shuts down and glucose and fat are pulled out of storage to be used as quick fuel.
The stress response is designed to help us fight or run from our stressor. Unfortunately, we can’t run away from family problems, or a job we hate, or bills that are piling up – so that excess cortisol leads to high blood sugar, insulin resistance and belly fat – which often ends in diabetes.
I’ve seen so many people improve their health just by reducing their stress. I’m a huge fan of meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha and Holy Basil to balance your body and mind and help manage the stress response and lower cortisol levels.
Finally, add these foods and supplements to your daily routine
Foods that are high in soluble fiber have a lower glycemic index. They can help balance blood sugar slowing down your digestion. These include:
- Legumes or pulses (lentils, chickpeas, black, pinto, kidney beans etc)
- Chia seeds
Healthy fats can help you feel full and satisfied faster. When eaten with carbs, they also help to slow down your digestion, which balances your blood sugar. Good choices include:
- Nuts (any kind)
- Nutbutter (peanut butter, almond butter, etc)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, etc)
Apple cider vinegar, or any vinegar, when taken with a meal, has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar levels. You can mix about 2 tablespoons with about ½ cup of water and drink it, or even better, eat it with your meal (salad with extra vinegar, anyone?) (5)
These supplements are also helpful* in managing blood sugar
- Berberine can work as well as the diabetes medication metformin in reducing blood sugar (DON’T take them together though!). It helps your insulin to work better. (6)
- Cinnamon has also been shown to lower fasting glucose and A1C levels in people with diabetes. (7) You can certainly sprinkle some cinnamon on your meals, but most studies use a good-quality cinnamon supplement.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant that can be helpful if you have diabetes and experience diabetic neuropathy. It’s been shown to improve diabetic nerve pain. There is some thought that it might also help reduce glucose by making your insulin work better, but the research is mixed on this. (8)
- Magnesium plays so many different roles in the body, and many people don’t get enough. It’s helpful for anyone with diabetes or
prediabetes,because when your blood sugar is high, you tend to excrete more magnesium in your urine. People who are diagnosed with diabetes frequently tend to have lower levels of magnesium. About 200-400 mg of magnesium glycinate, taken in the evening may also help relax you and fall asleep easier.
- A probiotic helps to boost the healthy bacteria in your gut. You might not associate gut health with blood sugar, but there’s lots of research that shows a link. (6) Those with diabetes have a less diverse gut microbiome than those without it. And get this – when scientists take bacteria from someone without diabetes and transplant it into the gut microbiome of someone with diabetes, their blood sugar improves. Eat some yogurt and fermented foods, drink some kefir or kombucha, or take a probiotic.
*If you’re interested in trying supplements to manage your blood sugar or any other health condition, please consult your health care provider before doing so. Just because supplements are “natural” doesn’t make them safe if they’re used incorrectly! Some can interact with your medications or other health conditions. If you’re pregnant or nursing, don’t take any supplements without first checking with your doctor
In addition, I can only speak to the safety and effectiveness of professional-grade supplements. Some supplements do not contain enough of the active ingredient, or they may contain other fillers.
If you’re unsure about which supplement to take, and the appropriate dose, please contact me. I’ll soon be offering a virtual nutrition consult with supplement recommendations, which is done via email. I’m happy to help you!
If you’ve had success with improving your blood sugar naturally, let me know and share your tips if you like!
- National diabetes statistics report: 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.diabetes.org/assets/pdfs/basics/cdc-statistics-report-2017.pdf. Accessed January 7, 2019.
- Statistics about diabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/?loc=db-slabnav. Updated March 22, 2018. Accessed January 7, 2019.
- Tsuneki H, Sasaoka T, Sakurai T. Sleep control, GPCRs, and glucose metabolism. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2016 Sep 1;27(9):633-42.
- Morselli L, Leproult R, Balbo M, Spiegel K. Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite. Best practice & research Clinical endocrinology & metabolism. 2010 Oct 1;24(5):687-702.
- Shishehbor F, Mansoori A, Shirani F. Vinegar consumption can attenuate postprandial glucose and insulin responses; a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. diabetes research and clinical practice. 2017 May 1;127:1-9.
- Ming J, Xu S, Liu C, Liu X, Jia A, Ji Q. Effectiveness and safety of bifidobacteria and berberine in people with hyperglycemia: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2018 Dec;19(1):72.
- Lu T, Sheng H, Wu J, Cheng Y, Zhu J, Chen Y. Cinnamon extract improves fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin level in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition research. 2012 Jun 1;32(6):408-12.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid,” Examine.com, published on 5 January 2015, last updated on 14 June 2018,https://examine.com/supplements/alpha-lipoic-acid/. Accessed January 7, 2019.