Optimizing blood sugar is a primary concern for maintaining health and avoiding various diseases and disorders, such as inflammation, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Alongside health and disease, your blood sugar levels are key for physique enhancement and metabolizing those tasty carbs efficiently, without storing excess fat.
Unfortunately, many people now suffer with impaired blood sugar and carb tolerance due to chronic spikes from processed carbs, reduced high intensity exercise, excess body fat and the inability for the body’s own mechanisms to control blood sugar levels effectively.
In this article I’ve chosen some of the best herbs and natural ingredients to help you optimize your body’s response to blood sugar and metabolize carbohydrate more effectively.
Blood Sugar Control – What You Need to Know
Blood sugar, officially known as blood glucose, rises upon having a meal, especially of food including processed and dense carbohydrates.
Under normal conditions, you consume carbohydrates, your blood sugar increases and then insulin is released from your pancreas. Insulin is a peptide hormone, which when secreted helps shuttle blood sugar out of the blood into various tissues such as in the muscle.
This process gives our cells energy for all of their duties, such as general movement, cognitive function and of course, high intensity exercise.
While usually this is a normal process, when blood sugar and insulin levels are chronically elevated, this can lead to a serious disorder called insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, your tissues become desensitized to insulin, meaning more and more of it is needed to do its job.
As a result, this can lead to life-threatening diseases such as type-2 diabetes, of which insulin resistance is the primary cause.
People often ask how they can tell if they are becoming insulin resistant. Well, blood work in a lab is obviously the most accurate test, but there are other factors that may also be used as indicators, including:
– Becoming tired and fatigued once you eat a high carb meal.
– Having more energy and generally feeling better on a lower-carb diet.
– Not losing weight or feeling a higher carb diet is effective for you to achieve your ideal physique / body fat goals.
Now, along with sleep, diet and exercise, there are luckily some key research-tested ingredients that can help improve your blood sugar control and sensitivity. Here are a few of the best:
Cinnamon Supplementation for Blood Sugar Control
Cinnamon is surprisingly one of the best possible ingredients that you can use to help manage your blood sugar levels and carbohydrate metabolism.
According to multiple studies, cinnamon actually has a potent insulin sensitizing effect when paired with food intake. This means that tissues in the body more readily accept glucose from the blood (1, 2).
Interestingly, cinnamon actually inhibits specific enzymes that are associated with digestion of glucose. By inhibiting these enzymes cinnamon is able to actually slow down the rate at which glucose (sugar) enters the bloodstream after a meal (1, 2).
Unless you are a lean and highly active athlete or bodybuilder who needs sugar in blood quickly, having a high spike in both glucose and insulin can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to control blood glucose. Further, a drastic spike of insulin can cause sugar crashes leaving you fatigued and hungry.
Lastly, cinnamon also contains compounds that act similarly to insulin. This means that even if you are insulin resistant, ingesting cinnamon may help drive sugar out of the blood and into various tissues of the body (3, 4, 5).
Due to its potent ability to manage blood glucose, cinnamon is one of the flagship ingredients included in our Blood Sugar Support supplement.
Gymnema Sylvestre for Blood Sugar Control
Gymnema Sylvestre is a herb indigenous to various rain forests in countries such as India and Sri Lanka.
This ingredient has long been used in traditional Asian medicine for a wide range of effects, but for our purpose, we focus on Gymnema’s ability to help the body manage blood sugar through various different mechanisms.
The first of these is Gymnema’s ability to stimulate insulin. One study revealed that ingestion of this ingredient was able to stimulate an insulin release in otherwise resistant individuals. For those who have such an issue, this ingredient may help to alleviate it (6).
Most fascinatingly, supplementing with Gymnema Sylvestre has actually been implicated in helping the body regenerate insulin cells (7).
One of the hallmarks of diabetes is death of cells that produce insulin. By supplementing with Gymnema, you might be able to regenerate these cells and in turn, improve insulin sensitivity.
Bitter Melon for Blood Sugar Control
Bitter melon is another traditional plant used for years in oriental medicine.
Interestingly, this ingredient has been implicated as a powerful supplement to help regulate blood sugar as well as improve insulin sensitivity, even leading to weight loss (8).
Studies have revealed that ingesting bitter melon along with food intake is able to moderate blood sugar spikes, acting similar to that of insulin (9).
As a result of its insulin sensitizing effects, bitter melon has even been associated with reduced weight gain, even where subjects were exposed to a typical high calorie, high fat and carbohydrate style of dieting.
Additionally, studies have revealed that bitter melon is effective in activating an enzyme called AMPK (10).
AMPK is otherwise known as a master regulator of cellular energy status. When stimulated, this enzyme helps drive blood sugar into muscle as well as helps generate mitochondria – the body’s fat burning cells.
As a result of its dramatic insulin sensitizing effects and stimulation of AMPK, bitter melon also made the list and was added into our Blood Sugar Support supplement.
Chromium for Blood Sugar Control
Chromium is an essential mineral meaning that the body requires it and it must be consumed through the diet.
Luckily, chromium is a strong regulator of insulin secretion.
Multiple studies have revealed that ingestion of chromium is implicated in greatly reducing blood glucose in addition to increasing insulin sensitivity (11, 12, 13).
Additionally, chromium has been also been shown to provide further benefits for weight reduction including reductions in cravings and even helping prevent binge eating (13, 14, 15).
As you can see, it has a twofold effect, controlling blood sugar levels but also possibly aiding in weight management due to its beneficial effects on cravings and binge eating (which is a common problem nowadays).
Without a doubt, Chromium is one of the most important ingredients in Blood Sugar Support.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid for Blood Sugar Control
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a fatty acid that plays a role in energy metabolism.
Supplementing with ALA has been implicated in improving a key transporter called GLUT4.
GLUT4 is actually a transporter that is present in muscle cells. When the muscle contracts, this transporter is actually moved to the membrane of the cell where it can directly transport sugar from the blood into the muscle (16).
In other words, it’s a gatekeeper. It opens the gate to let the blood sugar move into the muscle when activated. This removes it from the blood, which is what we want; as mentioned already, hanging around in the blood for too long is not a good thing, as it can damage our cells or go into fat storage.
ALA seems to effectively improve this process, which appears to be secondary to its ability to stimulate the aforementioned enzyme, AMPK, as AMPK stimulates GLUT4 (17).
Due to ALA’s ability to stimulate these key carbohydrate metabolizing processes, it was added in our Blood Sugar Support.
How To Take Our Blood Sugar Support
As you can see, we’ve included a ton of key ingredients that can make you a super carbohydrate metabolizing machine!
You can, of course, take 1 or a few of these ingredients alone, or get them all in our Blood Sugar support blend.
Depending on your need for controlling blood glucose, I suggest taking 1-2 capsules, 2-3 times per day just prior to consuming a higher carb meal. If you’ve just finished a workout, you likely won’t need them at that meal as you’ll have naturally improved blood sugar tolerance for around 1 hour post workout.
- Shihabudeen, H. M. S., Priscilla, D. H., & Thirumurugan, K. (2011). Cinnamon extract inhibits α-glucosidase activity and dampens postprandial glucose excursion in diabetic rats. Nutrition & metabolism, 8(1), 46.
- Adisakwattana, S., Lerdsuwankij, O., Poputtachai, U., Minipun, A., & Suparpprom, C. (2011). Inhibitory activity of cinnamon bark species and their combination effect with acarbose against intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 66(2), 143-148.
- Anderson, R. A., Broadhurst, C. L., Polansky, M. M., Schmidt, W. F., Khan, A., Flanagan, V. P., … & Graves, D. J. (2004). Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type-A polymers from cinnamon with insulin-like biological activity. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 52(1), 65-70.
- Imparl-Radosevich, J., Deas, S., Polansky, M. M., Baedke, D. A., Ingebritsen, T. S., Anderson, R. A., & Graves, D. J. (1998). Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon: implications for cinnamon regulation of insulin signalling. Hormone Research in Paediatrics, 50(3), 177-182.
- Broadhurst, C. L., Polansky, M. M., & Anderson, R. A. (2000). Insulin-like biological activity of culinary and medicinal plant aqueous extracts in vitro. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 48(3), 849-852.
- Shanmugasundaram, E. R. B., Rajeswari, G., Baskaran, K., Kumar, B. R., Shanmugasundaram, K. R., & Ahmath, B. K. (1990). Use of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract in the control of blood glucose in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 30(3), 281-294.
- Baskaran, K., Ahamath, B. K., Shanmugasundaram, K. R., & Shanmugasundaram, E. R. B. (1990). Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 30(3), 295-305.
- Basch, E., Gabardi, S., & Ulbricht, C. (2003). Bitter melon (Momordica charantia): a review of efficacy and safety. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 60(4), 356-359.
- Chen, Q., Chan, L. L., & Li, E. T. (2003). Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) reduces adiposity, lowers serum insulin and normalizes glucose tolerance in rats fed a high fat diet. The Journal of nutrition, 133(4), 1088-1093.
- Tan, M. J., Ye, J. M., Turner, N., Hohnen-Behrens, C., Ke, C. Q., Tang, C. P., … & James, D. E. (2008). Antidiabetic activities of triterpenoids isolated from bitter melon associated with activation of the AMPK pathway. Chemistry & biology, 15(3), 263-273.
- Martin, J., Wang, Z. Q., Zhang, X. H., Wachtel, D., Volaufova, J., Matthews, D. E., & Cefalu, W. T. (2006). Chromium picolinate supplementation attenuates body weight gain and increases insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 29(8), 1826-1832.
- Lai, M. H. (2008). Antioxidant effects and insulin resistance improvement of chromium combined with vitamin C and E supplementation for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 43(3), 191-198.
- Racek, J., Trefil, L., Rajdl, D., Mudrova, V., Hunter, D., & Senft, V. (2006). Influence of chromium-enriched yeast on blood glucose and insulin variables, blood lipids, and markers of oxidative stress in subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Biological trace element research, 109(3), 215-230.
- Brownley, K. A., Von Holle, A., Hamer, R. M., La Via, M., & Bulik, C. M. (2013). A double-blind, randomized pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: results of the Binge Eating and Chromium (BEACh) study. Journal of psychosomatic research, 75(1), 36-42.
- Docherty, J. P., Sack, D. A., Roffman, M., Finch, M., & Komorowski, J. R. (2005). A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: effect on carbohydrate craving. Journal of Psychiatric Practice®, 11(5), 302-314.
- Wang, Y., Li, X., Guo, Y., Chan, L., & Guan, X. (2010). α-Lipoic acid increases energy expenditure by enhancing adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase–peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator-1α signaling in the skeletal muscle of aged mice. Metabolism, 59(7), 967-976.
- Kim, M. S., Park, J. Y., Namkoong, C., Jang, P. G., Ryu, J. W., Song, H. S., … & Lee, I. K. (2004). Anti-obesity effects of α-lipoic acid mediated by suppression of hypothalamic AMP-activated protein kinase. Nature medicine, 10(7), 727-733.