Conditions & Ailments

Herbal medicines and diabetes

There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes - insulin dependent diabetes
Type 2 diabetes - non-insulin dependent diabetes

Diabetes is also known as hyperglycemia.  When a person's blood sugar levels are too low, they are hypoglycemic.

When you have diabetes, it means that your body is not producing enough insulin and that it is unable to use insulin effectively.  This causes high blood sugar levels.  Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood and also the rate at which glucose is absorbed into cells. Glucose is needed by your cells to produce energy and is also needed by your brain to maintain healthy, normal brain function.

Type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes will have to take insulin for life.  This type of diabetes occurs when your pancreas stops producing insulin.  It affects 5 - 10 percent of people with diabetes and normally starts at an early age.  Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and experts believe that it is caused by your body's immune system attacking and destroying the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.  Often type 1 diabetes starts after a viral infection.  This disease is more common amongst men than women.

Type 2 diabetes

This form of diabetes is the most common and affects 90 - 95 percent of people with diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes develops when your pancreas produces insulin, but not enough to fuel your cells.  Type 2 diabetes often only begins in later years, but recent research has revealed that younger people are now also more commonly affected.  Obesity is one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes.  Genetic factors play an important role, and often type 2 diabetes will run in your family.  Other risk factors include a diet high in fat, alcohol abuse and smoking.

Symptoms of diabetes

  • Unexplained weight loss - even though people with diabetes eat normally, their bodies cannot process the calories in the food that they eat, causing them to lose weight rapidly.
  • Fatigue - because the body is unable to utilize glucose for energy, it starts to use up fat for energy.  This makes the body use more energy and causes fatigue.
  • Excessive urination - the body tries to get rid of excess glucose by excreting it in urine.
  • Excessive thirst - the body encourages more water consumption to dilute the high blood sugar back to normal levels and to compensate for the water lost by excessive urination.
  • Excessive eating - increased hunger and eating is caused by higher levels of insulin.
  • Disturbed vision - high blood sugar levels can cause blurry vision.
  • Slow wound healing and infections - when your blood sugar levels are too high, white blood cells cannot function properly and wounds can take longer to heal.  Other infections such as urinary tract infections and frequent yeast infections can also occur. 

Complementary herbal medicines that can be used to manage diabetes

The supplements below can all be used with prescription medication used to treat both types of diabetes.  By taking some of these supplements, you might have to consult your health care practitioner in order to adjust dosages for insulin or the hypoglycemic medicines used to treat type 2 diabetes.  Please only alter dosages or medicines used to treat diabetes under the care of your physician.

  • Vitamin B complex - B vitamins produce enzymes that convert glucose to energy and these vitamins also help to prevent nerve damage due to diabetes.  Take 1 pill each morning with food, ensuring that the supplement contains 100 mcg B12 and biotin, 100 mg of other B vitamins and 400 mcg folic acid.
  • Chromium - lowers blood glucose and cholesterol levels.  Take 200 mcg 3 times a day with meals.  Consult your health care practitioner as chromium might alter insulin requirements.
  • Gymnema sylvestre - this herbal medicine improves blood sugar control.  Take 200 mg twice a day.  Consult your health care practitioner as gymnema sylvestre might alter insulin requirements.
  • Essential fatty acids - these supplements play an important role in protecting you against nerve damage caused by diabetes.  Take 1000 mg evening primrose oil 3 times a day and 1000 mg fish oils daily.
  • Antioxidants can help to prevent damage to your eyes, heart and nerves.  Take 1000 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E and 150 mg alpha-lipoic acid daily.
  • Zinc - zinc plays and important role in wound healing and also helps your body to use insulin.  Take 30 mg zinc a day.  If you are taking zinc longer than 1 month, add 2 mg copper per day.
  • Bilberry - this herbal medicine can prevent eye damage caused by diabetes.  Take 160 mg twice a day.
  • Ginko Biloba - this herbal medicine is very beneficial because it can improve nerve damage due to diabetes and will also improve blood circulation.  Take 40 mg three times a day.

Further recommendations

  • Adding soya foods to your diet may be beneficial as these products could improve glucose control.
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet that includes raw fruits and vegetables.  Fiber assists to reduce sudden blood sugar spikes.
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol.  Smoking constricts blood vessels and can worsen nerve damage due to diabetes.
  • Avoid high-glycemic foods such white flour products, white rice, pasta, starches and processed foods as these foods convert into blood sugar and can cause insulin levels to surge.  Instead, eat low-glycemic foods such as asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, green beans and low-starch vegetables and fruits.  These foods convert into blood sugar slowly and only gradually raise insulin levels.
  • Start an exercise program.  Please ensure that you consult your health care practitioner before starting any exercise.
Please consult your medical practitioner prior to using any herbal medications should you be under their care.

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