by Dr. Will Cole
A staggering 50 percent of us are now either prediabetic or have full-blown type 2 diabetes. No, that is not a typo; one out of two of us have some serious blood sugar problems, making a condition that was once a rarity completely commonplace. As I always say: Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal.
Our blood sugar problems are a modern phenomenon, born out of the mismatch between our DNA, unchanged for thousands of years, and the sugary, stressed-out, and toxic world around us. The blood sugar roller coaster we experience each day is anything but normal. Blood sugar, just like your hormones, immune system, and gut bacteria, is subject to the Goldilocks principle: not too high, not too low, but just right.
Insulin resistance is at the core of blood sugar problems.
Most of the blood sugar problems we see today are due to one thing: insulin resistance. Varying degrees of this hormonal imbalance wreaks havoc on our health. Your body needs blood sugar (glucose) to get inside your cells to create energy in the form of ATP. And the hormone insulin is needed to allow your cells to get glucose inside to create ATP. With insulin resistance your cell receptor sites are blunted and blocked because of inflammation or toxins, and you’re left with a backup of insulin and blood sugar, which is no bueno. This not only makes you feel miserable, but it can become diabetes, which is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes!
There are signs that your blood sugar has gone awry.
So how do you know if you have a blood sugar problem? If more than one of these is true for you, I suggest getting your blood sugar levels checked:
- You crave sweets or breads and pastries…a lot!
- Eating sweets doesn’t relieve your sugar cravings.
- You become irritable and “hangry” if you miss a meal.
- You find yourself needing caffeine to get through the day.
- You become lightheaded if you miss a meal.
- Eating makes you exhausted and in need of a nap.
- It’s difficult for you to lose weight.
- You feel weak, shaky, or jittery pretty frequently,
- You have to pee a lot.
- You get agitated, easily upset, or nervous.
- Your memory is not what it used to be.
- Your vision is blurry.
- Your waist is equal to or larger than your hips.
- You have a low sex drive.
- You’re always thirsty.
Natural ways to improve blood sugar balance.
You don’t have to settle for these symptoms or blood sugar highs and lows. Here are my favorite tips to even out glucose levels:
1. Find your baseline.
The labs I run on my patients to assess their blood sugar balance and check for insulin resistance are:
- Serum insulin: Optimal Range: < 3 ulU/mL
- C-peptide: Optimal Range: 0.8 to 3.1 ng/mL
- Fasting blood sugar: Optimal Range: 75 to 90 mg/dL
- Hgb A1C: Optimal Range: < 5.3 percent
- Triglycerides: Optimal Range: <100 mg/dL
- HDL: Optimal Range: 59 to 100 mg/dL
2. Sip on some matcha.
A compound in green tea, EGCG has demonstrated a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels. Drinking the whole green tea leaf in the form of matcha powder is a great way to up the ECGC in your life.
3. Drop some alpha-lipoid acid.
In several studies, alpha-lipoic acid was helpful in balancing out blood sugar levels and improving insulin resistance. This antioxidant also strengthens immunity, improves energy in cells, protects brain cells against excitotoxicity, and removes excess toxic metals. Suggested dose for blood sugar control is 200 milligrams three times a day.
4. Take a chill pill.
Research published in the medical journal Circulation followed nearly 5,000 people for 15 years. The people who took higher levels of magnesium had a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome. Another similar study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed more than 1,000 healthy adults for five years and found that greater magnesium intake improved insulin sensitivity. Other studies have shown that magnesium improved triglycerides and high blood pressure—two other hallmarks of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
5. Boost your chromium.
When chromium levels are low, HDL levels fall, insulin resistance develops, and triglycerides rise. Chromium supplementation has been shown to improve receptor function. The best food sources of chromium include onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and sea vegetables.
6. Increase your Nrf-2.
The protein Nrf-2 plays a role in regulating antioxidant gene induction. Nrf-2 actually turns on genes that are responsible for antioxidant and detox pathways. Inflammation is calmed when Nrf-2 is activated and tends to get worse when there are low levels of Nrf-2. Many dietary antioxidants have been found to activate Nrf-2, including:
- EGCG from green tea
- Quercetin from apples
- Curcumin from turmeric
- Resveratrol from grapes
- Rosmarinic acid from rosemary
- L-sulforaphane from broccoli
- Thiosulfonateallicin from garlic
7. Bring in some tocopherols.
Fat-soluble tocopherol (also known as vitamin E) has been shown to support insulin sensitivity. Standard doses range between 600 and 900 milligrams.
8. Get spicy.
A bioflavonoid found in cinnamon (called proanthocyanidin) may alter the insulin-signaling activity in our fat cells and thus has great potential to help with diabetes. The spice has also been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels and triglycerides in people with type 2 diabetes.
9. Heal your gut.
You gut health and blood sugar balance are inextricably connected. Metabolic disease can do a number on your gastrointestinal system, and poor gut health can mess up your blood sugar. One study found that transplanting the microbiome of diabetic mice into healthy mice made them diabetic as well! So watch out for advanced glycation end products (AGE)—harmful compounds that have the potential to cause leaky gut—and read up on candida overgrowth, which is also linked to blood sugar problems.
10. Soak in some sunshine vitamin.
In one study, supplementing with vitamin D for 12 weeks decreased body fat by 7 percent. Low levels are also linked to metabolic syndrome. The optimal range to aim for is 60 to 80 ng/mL.
11. Increase your healthy fats.
One study found that higher blood sugar in non-diabetics decreased function in areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This is one reason why Alzheimer’s is often referred to in the medical literature as “type 3 diabetes.” On the other hand, a ketogenic diet—where fat, not sugar, is your primary source of energy—has been shown to do some remarkable things for your brain health.
Healthy fats provide a slow, sustainable form of energy, unlike the sugary roller coaster many people find themselves on. After all, biology knows best: Babies are all born relying on fat in the form of breast milk for brain development and energy. The bottom line? For our brain to work properly, it requires a lot of energy. And from a biological and evolutionary perspective, the most sustainable form of energy for optimal brain health is good, healthy fats.
12. Support methylation.
Methylation is needed for healthy blood sugar balance. Activated B vitamins—like B9 L-Methylfolate (L-5-MTHF) and B6 Pyridoxyl-5-Phosphate (P5P)—are a great way to support methylation pathways. Food medicines to focus on are spinach, okra, and turnip greens, and meats like chicken liver or grass-fed beef liver, which have the highest levels of bioavailable B vitamins.
13. Activate your PPARs.
What the heck are PPARs? Studies suggest that peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) may help improve inflammatory conditions such as atherosclerosis, asthma, colitis, MS, and other autoimmune conditions. Some PPAR activators for you to bring into your life: wild-caught fish, green tea, astragalus, ginger, and sea buckthorn.
14. Get your omega on.
The ability of omega-3 fatty acids to lower the risk of stroke and heart attacks is well-known. But they also possess another interesting property that applies especially to diabetes: Omega-3 fats (in the form of fish oil) convert the potentially harmful very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), which are linked to diabetes, into less dangerous low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
15. Give yourself some adaptogenic love.
Adaptogens are awesome at balancing out hormones and inflammation. A study found the adaptogen American ginseng berry juice could significantly improve glucose tolerance and normal blood sugar levels after just 10 days!
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.