High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, is typically defined with two terms: prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. An estimated 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and upwards of 100 million have some degree of prediabetes. The symptoms of both disorders are highly variable, but they include being overweight or obese, having difficulty losing weight, feeling tired much of the time, and having poor concentration. Both diseases also increase the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers. Prediabetes is usually reversible, whereas people try to control type 2 diabetes.
If your fasting (before breakfast) blood sugar is between 100 and 125 mg/dl, you have prediabetes. If it is consistently higher than 126, you have type 2 diabetes. Also important is a fasting insulin test, and a measure of 11 mcIU/ml or higher indicates abnormally elevated blood sugar.
In the vast majority of cases, high blood sugar results from eating a diet high in sugary foods and other types of refined carbohydrates over many years.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are typically treated with prescription drugs. One of the drugs, metformin, can lead to deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid.
For most people, eating more high-quality protein (fish, chicken, grass-fed beef) can stabilize and lower blood sugar levels. In addition, soluble fiber from high-fiber vegetables slows digestion and blunts the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar. In addition, some foods—particularly vinegar, grapefruit, and cinnamon—can help lower blood sugar.
Several supplements have been shown to help regulate blood sugar. If you take more than two of these supplements, reduce the suggested dose.
Silymarin. Three studies of people have shown that silymarin, the potent extract of milk thistle, can significantly improve blood sugar. On average, the studies found supplementation led to a 15–20 percent decrease in blood sugar.Take: 200 mg three times daily.
Vitamin D. Research shows that vitamin D supplements can help maintain normal blood sugar levels and might prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. One study found that taking a combination of vitamin D and calcium helped people maintain normal blood sugar levels. Take: 1,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D, plus 500 mg of calcium citrate, daily.
Chromium. The body needs this mineral to help insulin work efficiently. A large amount—1,000 mcg daily—led to significant improvements in blood sugar levels after just four months, according to a study. Other studies show chromium might also aid weight loss.Take: 400-1,000 mcg daily.
alpha-lipoic Acid. Used in Europe as a medical treatment for diabetic neuropathy, alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that improves insulin function and in some people might lower blood sugar. R-lipoic acid may have twice the potency of alpha-lipoic acid, but at a higher price. Take: 200–600 mg daily.
Biotin. This B vitamin may potentiate the blood-sugar-regulating effect of chromium and lipoic acid. It’s also needed for the activity of glucokinase, an enzyme that serves as one of the body’s glucose monitors.Take: 1,000–10,000 mcg daily.
Curcumin. Doctors gave either 1,500 mg of curcumin or placebos daily for nine months to 240 people with prediabetes. By the end of the study, 19 of the 116 people taking placebos had developed type 2 diabetes. However, not a single person taking curcumin had developed diabetes. Take: 750–1,500 mg of a high-absorption form of curcumin.
Many people believe that low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a different disorder from high blood sugar. In most cases, high and low blood sugar are usually part of the same disorder. In some people with prediabetes, blood sugar levels can fluctuate from high to low in a couple of hours. Low blood sugar might cause a shaky feeling, whereas high blood sugar might result in poor concentration and sleepiness. A protein-rich diet, along with silymarin or chromium supplements, might be helpful.
Jack Challem, aka “The Nutrition Reporter,” is the best-selling author of more than 20 books on health and nutrition, including The Inflammation Syndrome and Feed Your Genes Right. He is also a fine-art photographer. Visit him on the Web at nutritionreporter.com and jackchallem.com/photography.