I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but it seems like all of a sudden “normal” doesn’t mean “safe” anymore when it comes to your health. You’ve probably seen and heard all the hype about the new blood pressure guidelines, which turned previously “healthy” people into “pre-hypertensive” patients overnight. I don’t completely trust the motives behind that particular example, but there is a similar case that does have me concerned.
A study published in the late 1990s showed that men with fasting blood glucose levels above 85 mg/dl have a 40 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men with levels below that mark.1 I know a 4-year-old study may not seem like news, but the growing epidemic of Type II diabetes is — and the disturbing part of all this is that blood glucose levels of 85 mg/dl are well within the American Diabetic Association’s “normal” range. Essentially, you’re being told you’re safe when, in reality, you may not be at all.
The good news is that these types of blood sugar metabolism conditions can often be successfully treated without daily insulin therapy or dangerous prescription drugs. There are at least half a dozen safe, natural alternatives – backed by centuries of traditional use and reams of modern research – that may be able to help you keep your own blood sugar levels normal AND safe.
A Blood Sugar Disorder by Any Other Name
Maybe you’ve been told you have “insulin resistance,” “pre-diabetes,” or the ominous – sounding “Syndrome X.” Or maybe you’ve already crossed the line into Type II diabetes. Whatever your doctor calls it, it means that your body is having a hard time maintaining normal blood glucose levels – and your system is giving you a warning to act now before things get worse.
Doctors assess blood glucose levels through one of two tests: a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG); or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The American Diabetes Association defines “pre-diabetes” as fasting plasma glucose levels between 110 and 126 mg/dl, or oral glucose tolerance levels between 140 and 200 mg/dl. Anything above those ranges qualifies as Type II diabetes – and puts you at increased risk for serious complications, like heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and blindness.
But as I mentioned above, even levels of 85 mg/dl can be dangerous for your heart, so it’s a good idea to keep your eye on anything at or over that.
With the early stages of Type II diabetes and its subset of precursor conditions, the pancreas’ insulin production capability isn’t completely gone; it’s just dysfunctional – and there are things you can do to correct it.
Everything from Toxins to Stress Can Upset Insulin Balance
After a meal, the digestive system breaks down dietary protein and carbohydrates into glucose molecules that release into the bloodstream. Glucose is the preferred fuel for cells throughout the body. When the body senses an increase of glucose in the bloodstream, it sends a message to the pancreas to secrete insulin. Specific cells in the pancreas called ß-cells (beta cells) are responsible for insulin production. Insulin acts as an escort for glucose molecules, helping them get out of the bloodstream and into hungry cells. As the glucose is cleared from the bloodstream, the pancreas’ ß-cells get the signal to stop insulin production. Then at the next meal, the process starts all over again.
But many things can go wrong with this complex process. Any number of slight variations in the pattern can upset the delicate balance and start your system on the path toward Type II diabetes. If communication with the pancreas’ ß-cells goes awry, there isn’t enough insulin to deal with the circulating glucose. If the ß-cells malfunction and produce sub-standard insulin, the glucose molecules and/or the cells of the body may not accept it. Insulin is like a key, which fits into receptor sites (the lock) on cell walls. As you develop insulin – resistant Type II diabetes, your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin. To stabilize high blood sugar, especially if you’re eating a lot of carbohydrates or sugar, the ß-cells will continue to secrete higher amounts of insulin. Eventually, the receptor locks become over-saturated with excess insulin. The abundance of insulin overrides the receptors’ ability to perform their task.
Diabetes Drugs Don’t Work – AND Can Be Dangerous
You’ve heard it a hundred times: The first line of defense is losing weight, adopting a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Sometimes that’s enough all by itself; in fact, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed lifestyle changes can slash your chances of developing Type II diabetes by more than half.2
But what if diet and exercise aren’t enough? Or what if substantial lifestyle changes like these are just too big a hurdle to overcome? Then what? Sure, there are prescription drugs you can take to control your blood sugar. But the fact is, drugs just don’t work for a lot of people. According to one study, about 15 – 20 percent of patients with newly diagnosed Type II diabetes don’t respond to sulphonylureas, the class of drugs used to regulate blood sugar. Over time, only about half of the patients prescribed these drugs are able to achieve and maintain glycemic control, and about 5 percent of them will eventually grow resistant to the drugs.3
But even those who do see results from drugs like Glucophage (metformin) or Glucotrol (glipizide) aren’t necessarily safe. According to the same study cited above, “sulphonylurea drugs are the major cause of severe drug – enduced hypoglycemia necessitating hospitalization.”4 Metformin, a popular non – sulphonylurea diabetes drug used to improve insulin resistance, has been associated with lactic acidosis, a dangerous condition involving the build-up of lactic acid in the tissues. And just a few years ago, a diabetes drug called Rezulin was pulled off the market after it was linked with over 400 deaths.
Despite this less than stellar track record, Type II diabetes drugs are consistently one of the best selling drug classes. That’s probably because they’re an easy solution. And because most doctors don’t know about the safe, natural alternatives for their patients with stubborn blood sugar issues.
Ancient Indian Secrets to Controlling Sugar Naturally
The terms “Syndrome X” and “insulin resistance” may be relatively new, but healers have been dealing with conditions like these for centuries. In fact, there was even a Sanskrit name for diabetes: madhumeh.5 References in ancient texts to madhumeh also reveal the names of several Ayurvedic herbs used to regulate blood sugar metabolism and mitigate its effects.
Bitter gourd, or bitter melon, is the most commonly used Ayruvedic treatment for high blood sugar, even today. Now, bitter gourd has some impressive modern research to back it up. Scientists have isolated a hypoglycemic peptide called polypeptide-p from its fruit, seeds, and skin and found that it can lower blood sugar in animals.6 Another study showed that a specific variety of bitter gourd, called cerasee, cut blood sugar levels in half after five hours in diabetic mice.7 Researchers at Sri Venkateswara University in India reported that after 15 days of treatment with bitter gourd, “a significant reduction was observed in fasting blood glucose levels in treated diabetic rats.” Cholesterol and triglyceride levels also declined.8
Another common Ayruvedic treatment that’s well known for fighting diabetes is the herb gymnema sylvestre, also known by the common name gurmar. Modern studies have suggested that an extract from the leaves of this plant may actually be able to help regenerate or repair beta cells and increase cell permeability. In one study, 22 Type II diabetes patients took 400 mg a day of a gymnema sylvestre extract for 18 to 20 months in conjunction with conventional oral anti-hyperglycemic agents. The researchers reported that the patients showed “a significant reduction in blood glucose …and conventional drug dosage could be decreased.” Five of the participants were able to discontinue their conventional drug therapy altogether and maintain normal blood sugar control with gymnema alone.9 Granted, the sample size is small, but there’s no denying the results are impressive – especially since they were seen in humans, not laboratory animals.
I also found some research supporting the use of the Ayurvedic herb pitasara. In an animal study, administration of a water-based pitasara extract effectively lowered blood glucose levels by 60 percent after 30 days of treatment. Another experiment showed that specific flavanoids in pitasara can also lower total cholesterol, HDL and triglycerides, important markers to watch considering the link between Type II diabetes and heart disease.10
Several studies from India suggested that an extract from the leaves of a variety of basil called ocimum sanctum (which literally means “holy basil”) can lower fasting and postprandial blood glucose and lower total cholesterol levels. In a placebo – controlled human study, Type II diabetes patients treated with holy basil extract saw their fasting blood glucose fall by almost 18 percent from baseline levels, while the control group had no significant change.11
The seed and fruit pulp of Eugenia jambolana have also demonstrated ability to lower blood sugar. A study published earlier this year tested the effects of a Eugenia extract on rabbits with varying degrees of drug – induced diabetes. Animals with borderline diabetes experienced a 12 percent drop in fasting blood glucose levels after just one day of treatment. After 15 days of treatment, rabbits with mild diabetes had fasting blood glucose levels 41 percent lower than they were at baseline.12
Get All the Anti-diabetic Benefits of These Ayurvedic Herbs in One Supplement
These Ayurvedic herbs offer some promising alternatives. But it’s not always easy to find individual Ayurvedic ingredients in the traditional formulations. There is a multi – herb blend called GlucoCare that combines over 25 Ayurvedic herbs, including all the ones you just learned about.
Several published studies show that GlucoCare (also know to medical professionals by the name GlucoSim, and to non – U.S. residents as Diabecon) can effectively lower blood glucose, reduce dependence on prescription diabetes drugs, and prevent complications of diabetes like diabetic retinopathy, one of the leading causes of blindness.13 – 15
The recommended dosage of GlucoCare is one tablet twice a day with meals. The manufacturer notes that it may take several weeks to see results.
Cancer – fighting Mushroom Reduces Blood Sugar Better than Prescription Drug
But herbs aren’t God’s only answer for blood sugar control.
We’ve known for some time that maitake mushrooms can be a powerful weapon against cancer and a potent immune – booster. Now it looks like these powerful fungi may also help regulate blood sugar.
Japanese scientists first found that a powder made from the fruit body of maitake mushroom effectively lowered blood glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels in diabetic mice as compared to controls. They isolated the specific polysaccharide, a ß-glucan complex, which is responsible for these effects and eventually dubbed the complex “WS-fraction.”16
Several years later, scientists at Japan’s Nishikyushu University picked up the torch. They added maitake extract to the diets of both diabetic and normal rats, and compared the results against diabetic and normal rats fed a control diet. After 10 weeks on the maitake diet, the diabetic rats had a fasting blood glucose level of 170 mg/dl, while the untreated diabetic rats had fasting blood glucose levels of 225 mg/dl.17
The maitake – treated group’s glucose levels still fall within the definition of diabetes, and the study isn’t clear on the baseline fasting blood glucose levels of the two groups. Still, the results demonstrate that the maitake extract was able to lower blood glucose levels.
And in the past few years, two new studies supporting maitake’s blood – sugar regulating ability have come out of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In the first, scientists compared the effects of maitake WS-fraction against those of a common Type II diabetes drug, glipizide, on diabetic mice. After seven days of twice – daily treatment with 70 mg of maitake WS-fraction, serum glucose levels decreased from 241 to 171 mg/dl and insulin levels decreased from 5.9 to 2.5 ng/ml. By comparison, the glipizide – treated group showed more modest gains, with a decrease in glucose levels from 229 to 186 mg/dl and reduction in serum insulin from 4.1 to 2.9 ng/ml.18
The second Georgetown study showed that water – soluble maitake extract can lower other markers associated with Syndrome X, including systolic blood pressure and triglycerides.19
During the course of these studies, the researchers came up with a maitake compound even more potent against Syndrome X than WS-fraction. They dubbed it SX-fraction, and clinical studies so far have shown impressive results, reducing blood sugar levels in rats significantly lower than the control group in just six weeks.20
First-ever X-fraction Supplement Finally Available
Some maitake products were specifically designed to fight cancer and boost the immune system. And those benefits come from a different beta-glucan complex, so other maitake products won’t help regulate blood sugar. In fact, until recently, you couldn’t get your hands on a maitake SX-fraction supplement. But now there is one available, developed in conjunction with several of the scientists who first discovered maitake’s impact on blood sugar metabolism.
It’s called Grifron(r) SX-Fraction.(tm) Each tablet contains 100 mg of a standardized maitake extract (18 percent SX-fraction), and 250 mg of maitake fruit body powder. Dosage recommendations vary depending on the severity of your blood sugar control issues, so read the label carefully and consult with your health care provider.
A Little Extra Help Can Go a Long Way
If you already take a prescription drug to lower your blood sugar, talk to your doctor before trying either GlucoCare or Maitake SX-Fraction. In time, you may be able to lower or replace the drugs with these natural products but using them together might take your blood sugar levels dangerously low.
And don’t forget the importance of proper diet and exercise. That’s still the best way to protect against Type II diabetes and its complications. But if you need a little extra help, these products may offer a safe, natural alternative to help you get your blood sugar back into a healthy range.
References Below ↓
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Although this article may contain factual information, the information contained in this article has probably not been evaluated by the FDA nor is it in any way intended to be medical advice.
Unfortunately I must recommend that for any change in medical or health behavior or for any change in the way you use prescribed drugs by your healthcare providers or before acting upon any of the advice given in this or any other article, that you consult with your licensed healthcare provider or physician.
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16 Konno S “Maitake SX-Fraction: Possible Hypoglycemic Effect on Diabetes Mellitus” Alternative & Complementary Therapies December 2001:366-370
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20 Kant S, Sahu M, Sharma S “Effect of Diabecon (D-400), An Ayurvedic Herbomineral Formulation on Diabetic Retinopathy” Indian Journal of Clinical Practice 2002;12:49-55