Without changes in diet and exercise habits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three Americans will develop type 2 diabetes. The good news is that most cases can be prevented. The disease used to be called adult-onset diabetes, because it was rare among people under age 30, but the name changed as incidence soared among younger people during the past two decades.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is an inability of the body to use insulin, the hormone that manages levels of blood sugar. As a result, levels of blood sugar become chronically elevated, a stage called prediabetes. When levels of blood sugar reach even higher levels, the condition becomes full-blown diabetes.
What Can Be Done
According to the CDC, type 2 diabetes can most often be prevented. A landmark study called the Diabetes Prevention Program, supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, compared the effects of a diet and exercise, and a commonly used diabetes drug (metformin), among more than 3,200 people who were overweight and had prediabetes. Compared to a placebo:
- Adults following a diet and exercise program reduced risk for diabetes by an average of 58 percent, and among those age 60 and older, by 71 percent.
- People taking metformin also reduced their risk of diabetes, but not as much: by only 31 percent.
- In addition to lowering blood sugar, the diet and exercise program produced additional benefits: reduced blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease, more so than the medication.
- Weight loss between 5 and 7 percent of body weight reduced risk for diabetes.
In all the years since then, the lessons learned have not been widely put into use, and prediabetes and diabetes continue to prevail. Lowering and keeping blood sugar in a healthy range is the key to avoiding the disease, and lifestyle changes along with supplements can help you do it.
1. Diet and Exercise
The amount of weight lost doesn’t have to be dramatic. As an example, for someone who weighs 200 pounds, a drop of 5–7 percent would mean losing between 10 and 14 pounds. Most people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes are overweight, and any dietary changes that produce weight loss are likely to lower blood sugar. However, a study comparing low-fat and low-carb diets among type 2 diabetics, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that a low-carb, low-sugar diet produced more stable levels of healthy blood sugar and less need for diabetes medications.
As far as exercise, a study of people with prediabetes, at Duke University in Durham, N.C., found that brisk walking—a total of 7.5 miles per week, or 1.5 miles per day on 5 days of the week—was more effective than jogging in reducing blood sugar. Other research, at Virginia Tech in Roanoke, found that resistance training can reduce blood-sugar levels after meals in people with prediabetes.
See Also Total-Body Workouts
Harvard researchers and others have found that getting too little or too much sleep disrupts blood sugar and contributes to diabetes. Get the amount that’s right for you.
Studies show that this mineral can improve blood-sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity, and it improves levels of cholesterol and triglycerides without adverse effects. Available as an individual supplement, chromium is also in many multivitamins and formulas designed to balance blood sugar. A daily dose of 200 mcg is often recommended.
4. Gymnema sylvestre
Research shows that this herb, an ancient diabetes treatment in Ayurveda, lowers blood sugar by increasing production of insulin. The most noticeable effects have occurred among diabetics with the highest levels of blood sugar. Follow label directions, as products vary in strength.
A review of studies published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that aloe supplements lowered levels of blood sugar in people with both prediabetes and diabetes. The greatest reductions were seen in people with the highest blood-sugar levels.
A review of studies with more than 600 people, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that probiotics lower blood sugar and improve insulin function among diabetics. Take a supplement with a variety of beneficial bacteria.
7. Maitake Mushroom
This mushroom extract contains natural alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, which block an enzyme that turns starch and simple sugars into glucose. Many diabetes drugs contain alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, but unlike drugs, maitake does not have side effects.
Caution: If you take medication to control blood sugar, work with a health professional before taking anything new. Diet, exercise, and supplements will reduce blood-sugar levels, and medication may need to be adjusted.
- 29.1 million Americans have diabetes.
- 86 million have prediabetes
- but 9 out of 10 are unaware of the condition.
- Prediabetes increases risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes.
- 15–30% Prediabetics who are likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years, without lifestyle changes.
- In adults, 95% of diabetes is type 2.
- Being overweight doesn’t always lead to diabetes but it is a major risk factor, and many people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are overweight.
- Type 1 diabetes, an inability to produce insulin, most often strikes adolescents. Although the causes are not fully known, it is considered an autoimmune disease with genetic roots, and is treated with insulin and diet.
- Diabetes increases risk for heart disease; stroke; loss of vision; kidney disease; amputation of toes, feet, or legs; and earlier death.
A study of type 2 diabetics found that a low-carb, low-sugar diet produced more stable levels of healthy blood sugar than a low-fat diet.
Other helpful supplements
Many nutrients influence blood-sugar and insulin function. Low magnesium levels correlate with higher blood sugar. Cinnamon has been used to treat diabetes. Vanadium, a trace mineral, has been found to reduce the need for insulin among diabetics. And alpha-lipoic acid has been found to reduce peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) from diabetes, and may also lower blood sugar.
Other helpful nutrients for blood-sugar control, found in many high-dose multivitamin and mineral supplements, include vitamin B6, biotin (another B vitamin), vitamin E, quercetin, zinc, and selenium.
Our Product Picks