Today I want to dive into some of my favourite herbs to control blood sugar levels. I’m inspired to write this article as I have been busy working on a new formula that will be coming to the Kygenesis range by the end of 2022 to help regular and control blood sugar levels. As most of you will know diabetes types I and II are the leading causes of kidney disease. Having your blood sugar levels regulated and in control is key in helping prevent further damage to the kidneys for anyone diagnosed with CKD.
Firstly let’s quickly cover what diabetes is and how it contributes to kidney disease.
Diabetes – How does it cause CKD?
Diabetes is actually the most common cause of Chronic Kidney Disease causing around 38% of renal disease, followed by hypertension causing 26%.
Around 25 – 40% of people with diabetes go on to develop diabetic kidney disease which is also called diabetic nephropathy, within 20 – 25 years from the onset of their diabetes
How does diabetes cause Kidney Disease?
There are three main ways in which diabetes may lead to the onset of CKD.
Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessel walls inside the kidneys. Elevated blood sugar levels cause the small blood vessels inside the kidney tissues to become narrow, inflamed and blocked. This leads to a reduction of blood flow to kidney tissues which reduces their ability to function and causes tissues to become necrotic and die.
Chronically unbalanced blood sugar levels, such as those seen in diabetes, cause nerve damage. If the nerves that supply the kidneys and bladder become weakened their ability to communicate effectively becomes hindered. As a result the bladder and kidneys no longer clear and empty urine and toxins effectively. A build-up of urine in the bladder adds extra stress to the kidneys.
Elevated blood sugar levels create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and infections, including infections in both the kidneys and bladder. Chronic bladder infections often lead to kidney infections which further cause inflammation and damage to kidney tissue and reduce their function further.
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels – The Natural Way
The first and most important change that anyone with diagnosed types I or II diabetes needs to make is to their diet. Herbs and nutritional interventions are wonderful to use, but at the end of the day if you continue to partake in the lifestyle choices that lead to diabetes then no amount of herbs and nutrients will save you.
I particularly remember this patient who I treated when I had just left university, she was 66 and had just had her foot amputated due to her diabetes causing gangrene and rotting of the tissue in her foot. The other foot wasn’t much better and she had been told that unless she made some drastic changes she was likely going to lose the other one.
I worked with her while she was in the hospital with recommended dietary changes and some nutrients that might be useful and safe to take with her other medications. I followed up with her 4 weeks later with an in-home visit. When I got there she was eating a bowl of ice cream with a HUGE amount of bottled whipping cream on top! I nearly fell over. When I confronted her and asked why she was eating foods KNOWN to drive diabetes she just shrugged at me and said she loved these foods and had no intention of giving them up. I made a decision then and there that I wasn’t the right practitioner to treat her. And while, at the end of the day, we all get a choice about how we want to live our lives, I couldn’t wrap my head around partaking in a behaviour almost guaranteed to cause her the loss of her other foot and maybe even her life.
I suggested to her and the family that she undergo some intense food counselling and educational practices.
Taking supplements without addressing your diet is like driving with your foot on the brake and accelerator at the same time. You might feel like you are doing things to help, but you won’t go anywhere.
Dietary changes for Diabetes
I won’t go into a complete deep dive about dietary intervention as I want to focus on the herbs that I love to use and there is so much information, both good and bad, about changes one can make to improve their diet when it comes to diabetes, a lot of this is laid out in our Kidney Disease Solution manual.
- Refined and processed foods
- This includes takeaway fast foods, sweets, lollies etc
- Junk food filled with sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Soft drinks
- Excessive carbohydrate intake from things like bread, pasta, sweets, biscuits, cereals and grains
- Fresh vegetables, especially the green leafy ones
- Swap white potato for sweet potato
- Make sure you are eating enough good fats from sources like oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and seeds
- Reduce fruit to 1-2 serves a day – Berries are the best fruit to snack on
- Get good quality protein into your diet through fish, maybe a little chicken and good quality plant proteins like tempeh, tofu and soaked lentils
- Swap regular chocolate for a little good quality dark chocolate
- Drink more water and herbal teas (within your fluid intake requirements)
- Exercise – this is one of the best things to do to regulate blood sugar levels. Start slowly and build up to 45 minutes 3 – 5 times a week, even simply walking will help
- Manage stress levels – stress will drive dysregulated blood sugar levels.
- Get plenty of sleep – Sleep disruption is linked to metabolic diseases including diabetes.
Herbal Medicine in the Treatment of Blood Sugar Regulation
Let’s take a look at four of my favourite herbs to use in the management of blood sugar dysregulation.
The Gymnema plant is a climbing plant, with small yellow flowers. It is found in tropical and subtropical regions in India, as well as other parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Traditionally, Gymnema has been used for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, weight loss, and cough. It is also used as a snake bite antidote, antimalarial, digestive stimulant, laxative, appetite suppressant, and diuretic.
Human clinical trials have shown Gymnema to be highly effective in the treatment of diabetes. One study conducted over nearly 2 years found that participants taking the Gymnema extract could significantly reduce their diabetic medication with a percentage of patients able to stop their diabetic medications altogether.
Another study was done with type I diabetics taking insulin found that Insulin requirements came down together with fasting blood glucose and glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) and glycosylated plasma protein levels.
Furthermore, the same study found that Gymnema appeared to enhance the body’s own production of insulin, possibly by regeneration/revitalisation of the residual beta cells in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. That is exciting news as the effects of taking Gymnema could be long-lasting, with benefits lasting well after the herb has stopped being taken.
Drug Interactions and Toxicology
Gymnema is a relatively safe herb to take with no know toxicology.
It should be cautioned with those taking diabetic medications and medications to control blood sugar levels, due to it’s ability to be able to lower blood sugar levels anyone taking these medications should be diligent in monitoring their blood sugar levels.
How to take Gymnema
It is the leaf that is used to treat blood sugar imbalances. It can be taken as a tea, in tablets or in capsules.
Anywhere between 4 – 16g of the dried herb per day.
Codonopsis is a family of perennial plant species native to East Asia, especially parts of Korea, Japan, and China. It has been traditionally used in China and Korea to replenish qi (vital energy) deficiency, as an immune tonic, and a tonic for the kidneys and adrenals.
Orally, Codonopsis is used for HIV/AIDS and as a protective adjuvant to radiotherapy in cancer treatment. Codonopsis is also used for bronchitis, coughs, asthma, tuberculosis, cancer, obesity, hyperlipidemia, dyspepsia, chronic diarrhea, diabetes, and anorexia. It is used orally as an immune tonic and is ideal as a tonic for weakness in the aging population.
There is interest in Codonopsis for the regulation of electrolyte homeostasis via the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). In animal models, adding Codonopsis root extract to the daily acidified water supply increased water consumption and reduced aldosterone levels and angiotensin II receptor (AT1R) transcription when compared with drinking regular acidified water.
Clinical studies have also shown Codonopsis to improve renal function by reducing the expression of serum creatinine, uric acid, and urinary protein compared with the model group. The levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines of tumour necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β, and IL-6 were significantly inhibited by the use of Codonopsis.
Other studies have shown that Codonopsis was effective in decreasing the blood glucose level in chronic treatment by improving beta-cell function (cells that produce insulin in the pancreas). The activities and expression of antioxidant enzymes, catalase and superoxide dismutase, were up-regulated when treated with an extract of Codonopsis, with the extract treatment showing no toxic effect on the host.
I particularly like Codonopsis as it is fantastic as an energy tonic in the aging population, it is sometimes called poor mans ginseng, I prefer this herb as it is far less stimulating than ginseng, it also has a direct effect on kidney function as discussed above as well as supporting healthy blood sugar levels.
Drug Interactions and Toxicology
Codonopsis is a relatively safe herb to take if used at the correct doses. Taking very high doses of the plant (30 – 60g per day) may cause heart arrhythmias.
Codonopsis reduces platelet aggregation so theoretically the plant may increase bleeding if taken with anti-coagulant medications, although there are no know reports of this happening.
How to Take Codonopsis
It is the root that is used in herbal medicine and it is often extracted into a herbal tincture or ground into powder.
Traditionally between 3 – 9gs of the dried root is used per day.
Lagerstroemia speciosa – Banaba Leaf
Banaba is a species of crepe myrtle that grows in India, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia that has been used to treat people with impaired glucose tolerance (prediabetes), diabetes, and weight loss.
Banaba extracts have been used for many years in folk medicine to treat diabetes, with the first published research study being reported in 1940.
The blood sugar lowering effects of Banaba has been attributed to both corosolic acid as well as ellagitannins, two of the naturally occurring constituents of the plant. Studies have been conducted in various animal models, human subjects, and in vitro systems using water-soluble Banaba leaf extracts, corosolic acid, and ellagitannins.
Corosolic acid has been reported to decrease blood sugar levels within 60 minutes in human subjects. Corosolic acid also exhibits antihyperlipidemic (lowering of cholesterol) and antioxidant activities.
A human clinical trial involving Type II diabetics (non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM) showed that the antidiabetic activity of an extract from the leaves of the Banaba plant standardized to contain 1% corosolic acid (Glucosol) reduced blood glucose levels by up to 30%.
Another study performed on 80 adults all diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance, showed that an extract of the Banaba plant was capable of not only improving glucose tolerance but that the plant was also capable of preserving the function of beta cells, that produce insulin in the pancreas and which are often destroyed or impared in the later stages of type II diabetes.
Another human clinical trial combined Banaba leaf with an extract of cinnamon. In this trial participants who were already on blood sugar control medications like Metformin, but whose HBA1C levels had not changed with pharmaceutical intervention, were given a combination of Banaba extract and Cinnamon extract on top of their existing medications. The results over a 12-week period showed that not only did their HBA1C levels decrease considerably but their insulin sensitivity, lipid profile and adiponectin level were also improved to a considerable extent.
The Banaba plant is one of the most well know and well-studied plants for its ability to support healthy blood sugar levels, which is why it is one of my favourite plants to use, especially when used in combination with Cinnamon.
Drug Interactions and Toxicology
As long as Banaba leaf is used within the recommended dosage range there are no cases of toxicology.
Due to its strong ability to reduce blood sugar levels caution should be used when the plant is used in conjunction with diabetic medications. Patients are recommended to monitor their blood sugar levels closely while using this plant.
Banaba may also lower blood pressure, so monitoring blood pressure while using any medications to control hypertension is also recommended.
How to Take Banaba Leaf
Banaba is often standardized to its constituent, corosolic acid. Banaba leaves contain about 0.3-0.4 mg of corosolic acid per 100 mg. Methanol extracts made from the leaves have been shown to have up to 11.3 mg of corosolic acid per 100 mg.
Most clinical studies suggest that the extract of glucosol found in the Banaba plant needs to contain between 1-2% corosolic acid.
Between 3 – 4g per day of the dry leaf containing 1-2% of corosolic acid.
Ceylon cinnamon is the bark of a tropical evergreen tree that grows in Sri Lanka, southern India, and Madagascar. Sri Lanka provides more than 80% of the world’s supply of this type of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is one of many types of cinnamon that is commonly sold and marketed as ‘cinnamon’; however, cassia cinnamon, which contains higher levels of the hepatotoxic compound coumarin, is the most common type found in North America. We are talking about Ceylon cinnamon for the remainder of this section.
Traditionally, Ceylon cinnamon is used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance (prediabetes), obesity, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and flatulence.
It is also used for stimulating appetite, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), oropharyngeal candidiasis, salmonellosis, intestinal parasite infection, dysmenorrhea, the common cold, and influenza.
Topically, Ceylon cinnamon is used as part of a multi-ingredient preparation for premature ejaculation. It has also been used as a mouth rinse for oral mucositis.
In foods, Ceylon cinnamon is commonly consumed as a spice and as a flavouring agent in beverages.
In manufacturing, the volatile oil of Ceylon cinnamon is commonly used in small amounts in toothpaste, mouthwashes, gargles, lotions, liniments, soaps, detergents, and other pharmaceutical products and cosmetics.
Cinnamon in studies has been found to have the above amazing benefits. Not only is it useful in controlling blood sugar levels but it also has strong anti-inflammatory properties, it is anti-microbial, an antioxidant that supports healthy brain tissue and has positive effects on the cardiovascular system.
Cinnamon is one of the most valued spice for diabetes management. Cinnamon has been identified as a very effective food in minimizing health complications of diabetes mellitus.
Extracts of cinnamon can activate glycogen synthase, activate insulin receptor kinase increase glucose uptake, inhibit glucogen synthase kinase-3 and inhibit dephosphorylation of the insulin receptor, leading to maximal phosphorylation of the insulin receptor. This is technical speak for improving the way in which the cells in the pancreas respond to the exposure of glucose from the diet, thus an improved response means lower blood sugar levels and better insulin sensitivity, production and function.
Cinnamaldehyde, a constituent found in cinnamon, has the ability to reduce plasma glucose levels more effectively than metformin.
A substance from cinnamon has been isolated and coined as an “insulin-potentiating factor” (IPF). A study comparing the insulin-potentiating effects of many spices revealed that the aqueous extract of cinnamon was 20-fold higher than the other spices.
A study performed on diabetic rats showed that cinnamon not only lowered blood sugar levels but also reduced food intake and reduced atherogenic LDL cholesterol.
In a small study in Diabetes Care, 30 people with type 2 diabetes were split into three groups taking 1 gram, 3 grams or 6 grams of cinnamon supplements daily. Thirty other people took a placebo.
After 40 days, everyone taking cinnamon had lower glucose, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. The placebo group saw no change.
A meta-analysis of 10 different studies found that consuming cinnamon produced a “statistically significant” decrease in glucose, total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. It also increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol.
Drug Interactions and Toxicology
Very large doses of Ceylon cinnamon may cause excitation of the central nervous system, tachycardia, and increases in peristalsis, respiration, and sweating. This is sometimes followed by sedation. This is seen in doses over 30 grams per day, which should be avoided.
How to use Cinnamon
There are a few different varieties of cinnamon on the market as mentioned earlier. The scientific research points to Ceylon cinnamon being the most effective for blood sugar control with fewer potential side effects.
Cinnamon bark is often ground into a powder and sold as a spice in supermarkets, just make sure you are getting the right species of cinnamon.
You can add 1 tsp of cinnamon to smoothies, hot drinks and to foods.
3 – 6 grams per day of dried Ceylon cinnamon bark is considered safe and effective for supporting healthy blood sugar levels. This is the equivalent of about 1.2 tsp of dried Ceylon cinnamon powder. Again make sure it is Ceylon Cinnamon and not Cassia Cinnamon – which is Ceylon cinnamon’s cheaper cousin.
So there you have it, four of my favourite herbs for the control of blood sugar dysregulation.
Remember to always consult with your doctor or specialist before adding any new herbal medicines to make sure they are safe for you to take. And if you liked this article be sure to head over to our Facebook page and leave us a comment.