Scientists are testing many supplements to determine if they help lower blood sugar.
Such supplements could benefit people with prediabetes or diabetes — particularly type 2.
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 ten supplements that may help lower blood sugar.
Cinnamon supplements are either made from whole cinnamon powder or an extract. Many studies suggest it helps lower blood sugar and improves diabetes control.
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% decrease in fasting blood sugar compared to those on a placebo.
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% or 14% decrease in fasting blood sugar, respectively, compared to those on a placebo.
Additionally, their hemoglobin A1C — a three-month average of blood sugar levels — decreased by 0.67% or 0.92%, respectively. All participants took the same diabetes drug during the study.
How it works: Cinnamon may help your body’s cells better respond to insulin. In turn, this allows sugar into your cells, lowering blood sugar.
How to take it: The recommended dose of cinnamon extract is 250 mg twice daily before meals. For a regular (non-extract) cinnamon supplement, 500 mg twice a day may be best.
Precautions: The common Cassia variety of cinnamon contains more coumarin, which may harm your liver in high amounts. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is low in coumarin.
Summary: Cinnamon may help lower blood sugar by making your cells more responsive to insulin.
2. American ginseng
American ginseng, a variety grown primarily in North America, has decreased post-meal blood sugar by about 20% in healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, when people with type 2 diabetes took 1 gram of American ginseng 40 minutes before breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two months while maintaining their regular treatment, their fasting blood sugar decreased by 10% compared to those on a placebo.
How it works: American ginseng may improve your cells’ response to and increase your body’s insulin secretion.
How to take it: Take 1 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 3 grams don’t appear to offer additional benefits.
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.
Summary: Taking up to 3 grams of American ginseng daily may help lower fasting blood sugar and blood sugar after meals. Note that ginseng may interact with warfarin and other drugs.
Damage to your gut bacteria — such as from antibiotics — is associated with an increased risk of several diseases, including diabetes.
Probiotic supplements, which contain beneficial bacteria or other microbes, offer numerous health benefits and may improve your body’s handling of carbohydrates.
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% decrease in A1C compared to those on a placebo.
People who took probiotics containing more than one species of bacteria had an even greater decrease in fasting blood sugar of 35 mg/dl.
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.
Suggested read: 8 proven health benefits of ginseng
How to take 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.
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.
Summary: Probiotic supplements — especially those containing more than one species of beneficial bacteria — may help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C.
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.
In a review of nine studies in people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with aloe for 4–14 weeks decreased fasting blood sugar by 46.6 mg/dl and A1C by 1.05%.
People with fasting blood sugar above 200 mg/dl before taking aloe experienced even stronger benefits.
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.
How to take 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.
Precautions: Aloe can interact with several medications, so check with your doctor before using it. It should never be taken with heart medicine digoxin.
Summary: Capsules or juice made from aloe leaves may help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C in people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Yet, aloe may interact with several medications, most notably digoxin.
Berberine isn’t a specific herb but a bitter-tasting compound taken from the roots and stems of certain plants, including goldenseal and phellodendron.
Suggested read: How cinnamon lowers blood sugar and fights diabetes
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% compared to diet and lifestyle changes alone or with a placebo.
The review also noted that berberine supplements taken alongside diabetes medication helped lower blood sugar more than medication alone.
How it works: Berberine may improve insulin sensitivity and enhance sugar uptake from your blood into your muscles, which helps lower blood sugar.
How to take it: A typical dose is 300–500 mg, taken 2–3 times daily with major meals.
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.
Summary: Berberine, made from certain plants’ roots and stems, may help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C. Side effects include digestive upset, which may improve with a lower dose.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is considered a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
In one study, 72% of participants with type 2 diabetes were deficient in vitamin D at the start of the study.
After two months of taking a 4,500-IU vitamin D supplement daily, fasting blood sugar and A1C improved. 48% of participants had an A1C that showed good blood sugar control, compared to only 32% before the study.
How it works: Vitamin D may improve the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin and increase your body’s responsiveness to insulin.
How to take it: Ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test to determine your best dose. The active form is D3 or cholecalciferol, so look for this name on supplement bottles.
Precautions: Vitamin D may trigger mild to moderate reactions with several medications, so ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.
Summary: Vitamin D deficiency is common in people with type 2 diabetes. Supplementing with vitamin D may improve overall blood sugar control, as reflected by A1C. Be aware that vitamin D may interact with certain medications.
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”.
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes taking 400 mg of gymnema leaf extract daily for 18–20 months experienced a 29% decrease in fasting blood sugar. A1C decreased from 11.9% at the start of the study to 8.48%.
Suggested read: 15 easy ways to lower blood sugar levels naturally
Further research suggests that this herb may help lower fasting blood sugar and A1C in type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes and reduce cravings for sweets by suppressing the sweet-taste sensation in your mouth.
How it works: Gymnema sylvestre may reduce sugar absorption in your gut and promote cells’ sugar uptake 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.
How to take it: The suggested dose is 200 mg of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract twice daily with meals.
Precautions: Gymnema 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 the blood levels of some drugs, and one case of liver damage has been reported.
Summary: Gymnema sylvestre may lower fasting blood sugar and A1C in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, though more research is needed. If you require insulin injections, it’s essential to consult your doctor before trying this supplement.
Low blood levels of magnesium have been observed in 25–38% of people with type 2 diabetes and are more common in those who don’t have their blood sugar under good control.
In a systematic review, eight of 12 studies indicated that giving magnesium supplements for 6–24 weeks to healthy people or those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes helped reduce fasting blood sugar levels, compared to a placebo.
Furthermore, each 50-mg increase in magnesium intake produced a 3% decrease in fasting blood sugar in those who entered the studies with low blood magnesium levels.
How it works: Magnesium is involved in normal insulin secretion and insulin action in your body’s tissues.
How to take it: Doses provided to people with diabetes are typically 250–350 mg daily. Be sure to take magnesium with a meal to improve absorption.
Precautions: Avoid magnesium oxide, which can increase your risk of diarrhea. Magnesium supplements may interact with several medications, such as diuretics and antibiotics, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them.
Summary: Magnesium deficiency is common in people with type 2 diabetes. Studies suggest that magnesium supplements may help reduce your fasting blood sugar.
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, broccoli, and red meat.
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 as the dose increased.
How it works: ALA may improve insulin sensitivity and cells’ sugar uptake 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.
How to take it: Doses are generally 600–1,200 mg daily, taken in divided doses before meals.
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.
Summary: ALA may gradually help decrease fasting blood sugar and A1C, with greater effects at up to 1,200 mg daily doses. It also exhibits antioxidant effects that may reduce damage from high blood sugar. Still, it may interfere with therapies for thyroid conditions.
Chromium deficiency reduces your body’s ability to use carbs — converted into sugar — for energy and raises your insulin needs.
In a review of 25 studies, chromium supplements reduced A1C by about 0.6% in people with type 2 diabetes, and the average decrease in fasting blood sugar was around 21 mg/dl compared to a placebo.
A small amount of evidence suggests that chromium may also help lower blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes.
How it works: Chromium may enhance the effects of insulin or support the activity of pancreatic cells that produce insulin.
How to take 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.
Precautions: Certain drugs — such as antacids and others prescribed for heartburn — can reduce chromium absorption.
Summary: Chromium may improve insulin action in your body and lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes — and possibly those with type 1 — but it won’t cure the disease.
Many supplements — including cinnamon, ginseng, other herbs, vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics, and plant compounds like berberine — may help lower blood sugar.
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Remember that you may experience different results than what studies have found based on factors such as duration, supplement quality, and diabetes status.
Discuss supplements with your doctor, especially if you’re taking medicine or insulin for diabetes. Some of the above supplements may interact with medications, raising the risk of blood sugar dropping too low.
Sometimes, 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.