A combination of lifestyle factors and supplements can stave off elevated blood sugar levels.
Many people do not think about their blood sugar levels until they are in jeopardy. And many more may not even realize that their blood sugar levels are off-balance until a routine blood panel indicates such.
Blood sugar levels that are persistently high can indicate pre-diabetes, or, after the target range is exceeded, it can indicate the onset of diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness, limb amputation, heart disease and kidney disease. If that is not scary enough, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, affecting more than 34.2 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And one in five do not know that they have diabetes.
Though type 1 diabetes is genetic, and some women may develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, type 2 diabetes often is preventable via lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, exercise and managing weight. Though allopathic solutions are the standard of care for those already diagnosed with diabetes, certain supplements may also play a preventative role by helping blood sugar levels remain at ideal levels.
Everyone should know their glucose numbers, and indeed, this measurement is a standard part of annual blood work. Diagnostic tests include A1C test, a fasting blood sugar test, a glucose tolerance test or a random blood sugar test.
“Healthy blood sugar levels are 70 to 100 mg/dL after not eating (fasting) for at least eight hours. After eating, healthy blood sugar levels are between 125 to 140 mg/dL,” said Theresa DeLorenzo, DCN, RD, program director for Logan University’s Master of Science in Nutrition and Human Performance and Master of Science in Applied Nutrition and Dietetics. She also has a sports nutrition practice in upstate New York called Nutrition for Optimal Performance.
“A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 7.0 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes,” added Céline Torres-Moon, Science Writer with Protocol for Life Balance, an Illinois-based manufacturer.
Regardless of the numbers, Dr. Michael Jurgelewicz, director of product development and clinical support for Designs for Health, a manufacturer headquartered in Connecticut, who also specializes in functional medicine, said, “It is essential to look at a more comprehensive assessment of metabolic, inflammatory, oxidative stress and nutritional biomarkers. These include fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1C, a comprehensive metabolic profile, fatty acid profile, lipid panel, Hs-CRP, homocysteine and vitamin D.”
Even pre-diabetes is something of a concern. According to the CDC, approximately one in three people have prediabetes, though not everyone goes on to develop diabetes; prevention is the key here, which is where lifestyle modifications and supplements can play a large role.
Importance of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Glucose is the fuel for cells, and blood sugar levels are necessary for optimal function of the brain and other organs.
“Your body powers itself by burning blood glucose as energy, and your body needs sugar to function (think heart pumping). But too much glucose thickens the blood, slowing blood flow, and starving your cells of oxygen and nutrients. So, you need a healthy amount of it flowing through your system,” said Dovi Lipton, vice president of marketing of CuraLife, a manufacturer headquartered in Israel.
“Healthy blood sugar levels are important to prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease. Maintaining a healthy blood sugar range is beneficial for your energy and mood,” said Jay Wilkins, founder and formulator, BioNox, a manufacturer headquartered in South Carolina.
“It is important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels as persistent hyperglycemia induces oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Excess glucose is eventually converted to fat by the liver and elevated triglyceride levels are commonly seen. In addition, the combination of hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, dyslipidemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD), and other chronic diseases. Also, sustained high levels of insulin can result in decreased ability for wound healing,” said Dr. Jurgelewicz.
“Blood sugar rarely dips below the normal range in healthy people,” added Joe Brunner, president of Endurance Products Company, a manufacturer based in Oregon.
The problem arises when people already have blood sugar levels that are consistent with diabetes. In those cases, the blood sugar can either dip too low or too high.
“In this case, when blood sugar dips too low, it can leave a person feeling lightheaded, shaky or worse. The fix is to consume “quick carbs” such as jellybeans or other sugar candies, fruit or fruit juice, or glucose gels or tablets. This helps to quickly bring blood sugar back into the normal range. In other words, an abnormally low blood sugar level is an acute situation that requires immediate attention,” said Brunner.
“High blood sugar is much more complicated, in large part, because it can lead to a state of chronic inflammation and too much oxidative stress. Over time, this can damage blood vessels. What’s more, researchers conclude that chronic inflammation and oxidative stress can impair the ability of insulin to move glucose out of the blood into tissues. This further promotes high blood sugar, so it’s a vicious cycle. Sadly, unless high blood sugar is resolved, the end game for many people is pre-diabetes, or worse, type 2 diabetes,” he added.
When blood sugar levels have dropped, leading to hypoglycemia, symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, shakiness, sweating and irritability can occur. Torres-Moon explained that simply eating simple and complex carbohydrates as well as drinking juice can remedy this. “To avoid symptomatic hypoglycemia, healthy individuals would ideally be eating at regular intervals, throughout the day, well balanced meals containing carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and adjusting their food intake to their physical activity, taking into account its intensity and duration,” she said.
On the other extreme, high blood sugar can be asymptomatic, which is why diabetes is often referred to as the silent killer. “Nowadays, in Western countries, the occurrence of undiagnosed diabetes for years should be less common, as many people are screened for diabetes and medical intervention is started before diabetes becomes symptomatic,” said Torres-Moon.
Still, she continued, undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes that has become chronic, symptoms can include frequent urination, thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, weight loss, as well as tingling hands and feet. “Consistent high blood sugar will slowly damage tissues and organs, and notably blood vessels and nerves, which leads to retinopathy, nephropathy and heart damage. Furthermore, it can also lead to blindness by thrombosis (blockage) of central retinal artery, necrosis (death) of toes, amputation of leg, dementia, etc.,” she said.
Dr. DeLorenzo further explained, “The blood vessels that feed your organs, including your kidneys, heart and eyes, are small. When your blood sugar levels are elevated, those vessels start to become clogged, which can cause cardiovascular and kidney problems and issues with eyesight. When your blood sugar levels are too low, you can experience complications such as a lack of energy, dizziness and fainting.”
Though diabetes is defined as having high blood sugar levels, most people with metabolic syndrome have insulin resistance.
Metabolic syndrome means that one has risk factors for developing a conglomeration of life-threatening conditions, including diabetes. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the metabolic factors include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, impaired fasting blood glucose, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol; the presence of three factors alone is enough for a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.
“Metabolic syndrome is a compilation of conditions that occur together such as increased waist circumference, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels that can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. People most at risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome include those who follow diets high in saturated fat and sugar and who don’t exercise regularly,” Dr. DeLorenzo further explained.
“Having one of these conditions does not mean you have metabolic syndrome, but you are at a greater risk of developing serious diseases,” said Wilkins, adding that age was a large risk for both diabetes and metabolic syndrome, though type 1 diabetes can present itself at any age. Type 2 diabetes is one type of a complex, chronic metabolic disorder. “It is characterized by a hyperglycemic state in which there is chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate insulin secretion or ineffective action of insulin on the liver and peripheral tissues. Risk factors include obesity, age, hypertension, dyslipidemia and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Dr. Jurgelewicz.
“An elevated blood sugar level is a result of these conditions rather than the cause. When you are overweight, your cells become covered in fat, which prevents insulin and sugar from entering them. This can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can in turn clog your arteries, making it harder for your organs to receive adequate blood flow,” she added.
Solutions to Maintain and Control Healthy Blood Sugar
The plan of action for patients with diabetes is dependent upon whether they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For those with type 1, in addition to insulin, they require a “ … very specific diet and exercise program that needs to be customized to the needs of each patient depending on their age, their nutritional needs, and their physical activity patterns,” said Torres-Moon.
For everyone else—those who wish to maintain already healthy blood sugar levels or those who need to control type 2 diabetes, “ … lifestyle adjustments are the cornerstones for the management of healthy blood sugar levels,” said Torres-Moon. Some such lifestyle changes include a diet robust with foods low on the glycemic index level as well as regular exercise. “These lifestyle changes, if successfully maintained over time, can have dramatic results on the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels and postpone for years the need to use allopathic medications.”
The importance of a healthy diet to manage diabetes cannot be overestimated. This type of diet is generally a low-carbohydrate diet. Specifically, said Dr. DeLorenzo, “It can be helpful to count your carbohydrates, ensuring you are receiving a healthy amount as well as dividing them up throughout the day to avoid consuming them all at once. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains and healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, and low in saturated fats can help you achieve, maintain and control healthy blood sugar levels.
“Additionally,” she continued, “eat foods with a low glycemic index that are slowly digested and absorbed, causing a slower, smaller rise in blood sugar levels. For example, sources of carbohydrates such as fiber do not cause dramatic rises and falls in blood sugar levels. Adding protein and fat to your meal can also slow digestion and help reduce the glycemic response. Exercising can lower blood sugar, too.”
Dr. Jurgelewicz said that dietary interventions for controlling blood sugar levels is not a one-size-fits-all approach. “There are several dietary strategies that have been shown to prevent diabetes and glucose tolerance including a Mediterranean diet, intermittent fasting, a low-carb diet, a low-fat diet, a high protein diet and a ketogenic diet,” he said.
Robert Graham, MD, MPH, ABOIM, FACP, co-founder of FRESH Medicine and advisor to Sugarbreak (New York), said that food matters. “What we eat has a direct impact on our health. The best natural remedy is the reduction of sugars in our diet. This is in the form of refined carbohydrates, like white bread, rice and pasta. Also important is elimination of added sugars in foods, especially sugary-laden beverages and sodas.”
Dr. DeLorenzo also recommended regular exercise, such as walking, running and yoga.
Role of Supplements
There is no substitute for allopathic medicine (i.e., insulin) when it comes to treating diabetes. However, supplements can enhance lifestyle modifications. “Nutrition and supplements definitely have an important role in type 1 diabetes care and greatly contribute to the stability of blood sugar levels and complement insulin treatment,” said Torres-Moon.
“More traditional treatments to help with blood sugar include monitoring blood sugar levels, taking insulin and oral medication. These traditional treatments can be partnered with natural remedies to optimize your body’s overall wellbeing,” said Wilkins.
“Certain dietary supplements have been used for thousands of years to support healthy blood sugar levels. Each ingredient would play its own supporting role. For example, Swertia chirata promotes cellular glucose metabolism and the healthy release of insulin. In general, people seeking glucose support report a lot of success using dietary supplements,” said Lipton.
Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education with the Wisconsin-based manufacturer, EuroMedica, agreed that supplements can play a very important role, along with practitioner guidance regarding lifestyle, diet and exercise. “Some natural interventions can ‘course correct’ for the way our body deals with carbohydrates, blood sugar spikes and troughs, and the metabolism of sugars and carbohydrates. I would go so far as to say that clinically proven supplements should be a first line of defense/treatment when it comes to reducing high blood sugar and addressing insulin resistance,” she said.
“Dietary supplements can play a significant role in supporting healthy blood sugar levels. These individuals require a higher nutrient intake to meet their metabolic demands. For instance, circulating glycine levels are consistently low in patients with type 2 diabetes. Dietary glycine supplementation reduces systemic inflammation and improves glucose tolerance. There is also evidence that individuals with type 2 diabetes have lower plasma vitamin C concentrations compared to those with normal glucose response demonstrating greater vitamin C requirements. Also, many patients are on medications that contribute to nutrient deficiencies. For example, Metformin reduces vitamin B12 and folate leading to increased homocysteine levels,” said Dr. Jurgelewicz.
While those who already have diabetes cannot rely on supplements alone, supplementation can greatly benefit those who already have normal blood sugar levels. For example, said Brunner, “A supplement program could be as simple as taking a high-quality multivitamin that provides nutrients essential for carbohydrate metabolism and glycemic control.” It could also include targeted supplements for metabolic health.
“But it’s important to remember that supplements—as helpful as they can be—are no substitute for a healthy lifestyle. To be sure, lifestyle medicine needs to be front and center, and supplements can build on this foundation to target individual needs,” added Brunner.
The existence of supplements can help people take a more proactive approach with their health and blood sugar levels, said Scarlett Leung, CEO and co-founder of Sugarbreak.
Certain supplements, while they do not target blood sugar levels specifically, are helpful for other systemic reasons.
“Safe and effective dietary supplements also have an important role but must be prescribed and monitored under physician supervision. Supplements have a direct effect on glucose and insulin metabolism so care must be provided,” cautioned Dr. Graham.
Products for the Practitioner Market
Designs for Health offers several products for blood sugar support; these include Metabolic Synergy, Annatto-E 300 and Sensitol. To illustrate, Metabolic Synergy, for example, is an intensive metabolic support formula that provides a wide array of compounds such as R-lipoic acid, benfotiamine, zinc, chromium, taurine and carnosine.
Protocol for Life Balance manufactures several products for blood sugar support, including Glucose Balance which contains GlucoFit, a dietary ingredient extracted from the herb banaba. Its active ingredient, corosolic acid, supports already normal glucose levels. Other significant ingredients include magnesium, niacin-bound chromium, thiamin, pantothenic acid, biotin and the herb Gymnemia sylvestre to support glucose metabolism. Another product is called Glucose Management with Berberine HCI; berberine is a combination of goldenseal, Oregon grape and barberry.
EuroMedica utilizes the botanical Hintonia latiflora in its supplement called Sucontral D. The bark extracts of hintonia contain coutareagenin, a compound that can stabilize blood sugars. “In one clinical trial, Sucontral D significantly lowered HgbA1C values, fasting glucose and postprandial blood sugar levels. Factoring all of the diabetic symptoms, the dysfunction scores improved from 4.8 points to 1.3 points at the end of the study, an improvement of more than 70 percent. Participants also saw improvements in blood pressure, lipids and liver values, so this one supplement can help address related issues associated with metabolic syndrome, too,” said Myers.
Another EuroMedica product is their Nerve Complex supplement which can help patients who struggle with hyperglycemia that is impacting nerve comfort and function. “It includes clinically studied boswellia to reduce pain and inflammation associated with neuropathy, along with the methylated, bioactive form of B vitamins, alpha-lipoic acid, glycine chelated chromium and zinc, a fat-soluble form of thiamin (benfotiamine), and other nutrients that collectively address blood sugar levels and nerve health,” Myers explained.
Endurance Products Company offers a full range of products that supports glycemic control as well as other cardiometabolic issues that can affect someone with poor glycemic control. For example, the company offers sustained-release Dihydrobererine SR to support healthy blood sugar levels, while Endur-B Complex is popular for cellular and metabolic health.
CuraLin, made by CuraLife, contains nine ingredients to support healthy glucose levels, inclyding gymnema sylvestre, turmeric and bitter melon. “Over 70,000 people have used CuraLin for healthy glucose support. CuraLin is currently undergoing three concurrent clinical tests around the world,” said Lipton.
Sugarbreak has six products under the groups of Resist, Stabilize and Reduce, all made with plants. For example, Resist, a dissolvable strip, blocks the taste of sugar in foods with such ingredients as gymnema acid and peppermint, thereby curbing sugar cravings, while Stabilize are capsules containing white mulberry leaf extract. The latter blocks carbs and sugars and stabilizes post-meal sugar spikes when taken ten minutes before a meal.
Bionox offers several products to support healthy blood sugar levels, including Nox3 Greens Ultimate Nitric Oxide Superfood, Nox3 Beets Ultimate Nitric Oxide Lozenge, and M3 Ultimate Nitric Oxide Nutrition. “All products include natural ingredients that work with your body to increase your nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide supplements can play a vital role in supporting your blood sugar levels in combination with proper diet and exercise,” said Wilkins.
State of the Market
Due to the sheer number of people who struggle with blood sugar, the market for supplements is very strong.
“It is estimated that by 2030, almost 60 million Americans will have type 2 diabetes, which is an increase of 54 percent. Until we are able to successfully integrate healthier lifestyle practices for the general public, this number will only increase. There is greater awareness of these problems, with more patients who are more self-directed and aware that the right nutrients can help them balance glucose levels, but a practitioner’s guidance is key. I think the challenge is to broaden that education so that people can get blood sugar under control earlier in their lives to prevent the extreme damage that long-term uncontrolled hyperglycemia can cause,” said Myers.
I believe that blood sugar will be the next big health biomarker that everyone will be focused on. The latest one that people have been focused on is sleep that has been made possible with new wearable technology. We know that blood sugar readings will soon be available in wearables, which will give everyone the information they need to manage their blood sugar more effectively. What’s also exciting is that with a bad night’s sleep, it’s a little harder to make changes to fix it. However, with blood sugar and the immediacy of the effect of exercise, sleep and diet, consumers will be able to make changes quickly to achieve a better blood sugar level,” said Leung.
Anyone diagnosed with diabetes should be under the care of a practitioner, particularly if insulin is part of the regimen. Practitioners can also help patients track blood sugar levels and provide advice regarding key lifestyle changes.
“Practitioners can support their patients’ efforts to achieve a healthy weight and encourage them to increase physical activity. Because it requires tremendous effort for most patients to achieve these goals, practitioners can really be there to address the intellectual, physical and psychological challenges that can occur while the patients go through the ups and downs of transforming their long-held habits to an active lifestyle with weight management in mind. It goes beyond suggesting to take a couple supplements to support healthy blood sugar levels; it requires that practitioners truly understand their patients and establish an achievable, sustainable program that will lead to a long-term metabolic success,” said Torres-Moon.
For clinically meaningful progress, a whole-body approach is needed, one that starts with a diet, lifestyle and supplement plan that targets the individual needs of a patient. This is where natural practitioners really shine,” added Brunner. “The holistic approach that is the hallmark of naturopathic medicine begins with improving diet and lifestyle habits. In this way, a patient who works with a naturopath can help resolve underlying metabolic issues and achieve clinically meaningful progress rather than simply minimize a symptom. For people with type 2 diabetes, this could be the drug-free solution they need to not only maintain a healthy blood sugar level, but also reduce harmful inflammation and oxidative stress.”
“Natural practitioners should promote a diet that is moderate in carbohydrates, high in fiber, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and low in saturated fat. They should also recommend at least 60 minutes of exercise per day,” said Dr. DeLorenzo.
Healthy Take Aways
• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, affecting more than 34.2 million adults.
• Healthy blood sugar levels are 70 to 100 mg/dL after not eating (fasting) for at least eight hours. After eating, healthy blood sugar levels are between 125 to 140 mg/dL.
• It is estimated that by 2030, almost 60 million Americans will have type 2 diabetes.
For More Information:
Designs for Health, www.designsforhealth.com
Endurance Products, www.endur.com
Protocol for Life Balance, www.protocolforlife.com