Q: I’m a 50-year-old, somewhat overweight female. At my last checkup, my doctor told me I have type II diabetes and immediately put me on two different medications to bring my blood sugar down. The medications are not working that well and I’m afraid the doctor is going to put me on insulin shots. Are there any supplements I can take to help bring my blood sugar down?
A:Your doctor is correct to be concerned about type II diabetes. This form of diabetes, in which the body’s cells become “resistant” to the effects of insulin produced in the pancreas, is thought to affect at least 16 million Americans, and its incidence is increasing at an alarming rate. This increase parallels the rising rate of obesity in the US, and for good reason: both type II diabetes and obesity can be thought of as ‘lifestyle’ diseases. Both health conditions are brought about and exacerbated by lifestyle choices, such as eating a high-calorie diet and not exercising regularly. Fortunately, behavioral changes and supplement use can help people avoid the occurrence, or greatly lessen the consequences of, type II diabetes.
If possible, the first step in the prevention and management of type II diabetes is instituting an exercise program. Multiple studies show that a daily, 30-minute exercise regimen, even one that does not lead to significant weight loss, can decrease the risk of diabetes. Exercise programs in which weight loss is achieved are even more efficacious in warding off diabetes and decreasing its potential health risks, such as heart disease, nerve damage, blindness, and impotence.
For those who cannot exercise or want to reduce their reliance on conventional (and expensive) prescription medication, research shows that a variety of safe, natural substances can successfully combat type II diabetes. Vitamin E, which has proven to be effective for a variety of disease states, has been shown to be useful in safely lowering blood sugar levels.1,2 Chromium, an essential mineral that is required for normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, was shown in a rigorous, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to safely and effectively decrease blood sugar as well as cholesterol levels in patients with type II diabetes.3 Acetyl-l-carnitine, a supplement that is known to positively influence free fatty acid and glucose metabolism, has been shown to enhance cellular glucose uptake and help prevent nerve damage caused by diabetes.4,5
Finally, alpha-lipoic acid, a safe and powerful antioxidant that functions as a coenzyme in carbohydrate metabolism, has been used for decades in Germany to prevent and treat diabetes-induced nerve damage. A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 120 patients with diabetes-induced nerve damage found that alpha-lipoic acid safely and effectively improved both the signs and symptoms of nerve damage when compared to placebo.6 A further discussion of these and other useful supplements for type II diabetes can be found in Life Extension’s Disease Prevention and Treatment book.