Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Diabetes

By NeNa | Articles

Jun 22

A lot of people with diabetes want to improve the results from their conventional diabetes treatment with the help of complementary and alternative therapies.

In fact, 1/3 of all American diabetes patients use some kind of an alternative treatment.

These alternative treatments treat not only the body but also the mind of diabetes patients. Even though not all of them are scientifically supported, millions of people use them, some of them proving to be effective, and others not.

Still, people are tireless when it comes to finding a way that could help improve their health. And, in the case of diabetes, their health is affected in many different ways.

These alternative treatments for diabetes are not part of the standard Western medicine. They include everything, from exercise and diet to mental conditioning and changes in one’s lifestyle.

Even some patients who have developed diabetic neuropathy can benefit from some relaxation and stress-relieving therapies.

Nevertheless, you should consult your doctor to understand how each of these therapies could affect your diabetes before starting any of them.

Alternative Treatments for Diabetes

  • Diet & Exercise
  • Herbs
  • Supplements
  • Relaxation Techniques

1. Diet and Exercise

Your diet and how active you are, affect your blood sugar level and the treatment of diabetes.

You should follow a healthy diet consisted of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nonfat dairy products, poultry, lean meats, and fish. In other words, pick foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and avoid processed foods.

Also, an important thing to remember is to watch the size of the portions you eat. Eating little and often is better than eating a lot once or twice a day.

An exercise regimen is helpful for people with diabetes. According to the ADA (American Diabetes Association), those without activity restrictions should do resistance exercises twice weekly. For instance, they could use resistance bands or lift free weights.

Moreover, people with type 2 diabetes should try to have 2 ½ hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity per week.

A review published in the World Journal of Diabetes claims exercise is one of the best treatments for regulating type 2 diabetes. Besides this, exercise can improve glucose intolerance, lower blood pressure and extremely high blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association says exercise is also good for those with type 1 diabetes. However, they warn these patients to monitor their blood sugar levels carefully as they have a higher risk of hypoglycemic episodes during exercise.

2. Herbs

Even though herbs are not considered as medicines by the U.S. FDA, they are popular complementary and alternative treatments for diabetes. It’s true most of them are not scientifically proven to help treat blood sugar levels, but still, people keep on spreading the word about some of these herbs.

Once again, we recommend consulting your doctor before taking any herb as a supplement, as they could interact with your diabetes medications.

The most popular herbs for diabetes include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Broccoli and other related greens
  • Peas
  • Okra
  • Sage
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Aloe Vera

As we mentioned, fiber helps control the blood sugar levels, so adding these fiber-rich herbs to your diet will surely help your diabetes treatment.

Other herbs with little to no support on their effect on diabetes are ginger, garlic, hawthorn, ginseng, cinnamon, and nettle.

Note: Ginseng can interact with warfarin and other medications.

3. Supplements

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is linked to diabetes complications and abnormalities in the secretion of insulin. What’s more, one meta-analysis of diabetes and magnesium research dating from 2011 has discovered that lack of this mineral increases the risk of developing diabetes.

The best form to take magnesium is through magnesium-high foods since the effectiveness of magnesium supplements is still not scientifically proven.

Some of the best food sources of magnesium for diabetics are seaweed, spinach, peas, beans, nuts, seeds, brown rice, avocado, corn, cucumber, cabbage, etc.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Although it’s still not proven that omega-3s supplements can help people control or prevent diabetes, they can lower triglyceride levels and reduce heart disease.

Good food sources of these good fats include:

  • salmon
  • soybeans
  • walnuts

Note: omega-3 fatty acids can interact with blood thinners.

Chromium

One Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont says chromium picolinate reduces insulin levels and enhances blood sugar metabolism in those with type 2 diabetes and obese people. Namely, this was shown in past human studies.

In fact, Richard Anderson of the USDA explains that all studies using supplements of this essential mineral proved it’s useful for diabetes and impaired glucose intolerance.

Vanadium

Several studies say vanadium in high doses could raise one’s sensitivity to insulin. Still, it can cause side effects and even be toxic when taken in high doses. More research is needed to prove vanadium’s effectiveness in the treatment of diabetes.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

You can find this antioxidant in foods such as broccoli, spinach, and potatoes. There’s a study which claim alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is beneficial for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says there’s little evidence that ALA improves the body’s response to insulin or prevents diabetic macular edema.

Cautions about Using Supplements

The supplements are rarely studied, so their efficacy and safety are generally unknown. They might have unknown side effects and not contain what the label states.

Furthermore, they can interact certain medications, and cause one to feel ill and nauseous. Therefore, you should always consult a doctor before taking any supplement.

Supplement Alternatives

Diabetics don’t have to avoid meat, but they could adopt a plant-based diet including:

  • vegetables
  • legumes
  • fruits
  • whole grains

This type of diet can help promote healthy weight, maintain blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. These factors are all beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.

4. Relaxation Techniques

Diabetics have an increased risk of anxiety and depression. As you may know, increased stress affects blood sugar levels as well as your diabetes medication. Therefore, here are few relaxation techniques for your body and mind that will help you deal with these problems.

Aromatherapy

According to researchers, aromatherapy can help you reduce your stress levels. Smelling pleasant essential oils will help you relax. There are many studies which investigate the effects of aromatherapy on diabetes treatment.

One of them published in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Journal in 2015 discovered that smelling cinnamon, fenugreek, oregano, and cumin essential oils helps reduce systolic blood pressure. When combined, the oils also reduced blood sugar levels.

Acupressure

Massage involving applying pressure on certain points on the body can not only reduce muscle tension and stress, but it can also improve circulation and joint mobility. These effects are of great help for the treatment of diabetes.

Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese technique involves inserting small needles into specific points in the body. Acupuncture is known to redirect energy flow and help alleviate pain. This is especially helpful for those with diabetic neuropathies.

Even though it’s generally safe, there’s a risk of possible nerve damage and infection. That’s why you should rely on a licensed acupuncturist.

Massage Therapy and Reflexology

Massage therapy is extremely useful for people with diabetes. It relaxes the body, reduces stress, anxiety, and sometimes even blood pressure. These benefits improve your overall wellbeing and surely help the treatment of diabetes.

However, you shouldn’t replace any diabetes medication with a massage therapy. Use it only as a complementary treatment.

Certain studies suggest massage can improve blood sugar levels in children with type 1 diabetes. However, scientists need more studies to confirm this discovery. Also, one 1973 study showed massages have potential to alleviate diabetic neuropathy symptoms.

Sources: HealthlineWebMDDiabetesDiabetes Self-Management