Dr. Juliette Sweet, ND
Maintaining Healthy Blood Sugars with Ayurvedic Herbs
By Dr. Juliette Sweet, ND
Maintaining healthy blood sugar is imperative to the health of every cell, organ, and our entire body. When regulation of blood sugar (glucose) is disrupted, a diagnosis of diabetes is made. Did you know 1/10 Americans have diabetes and 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes, which is mostly a preventable disease (1)? You may be wondering, what’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. Insulin is the hormone that tells our cells to take glucose out of the bloodstream so they can use it for energy. It also allows us to store glucose, called glycogen, in our liver and muscles to use as energy when we need it later. Individuals with type 1 diabetes need to provide external insulin as they are unable to make enough.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that usually occurs later in life, although there is an increasing number of children and teenagers developing it over the last 20 years (1). The difference in type 2 diabetes is the beta cells in the pancreas are still producing insulin but the body becomes less sensitive to its presence. In early disease, the pancreas produces more insulin to combat high blood sugar but as the disease progresses, function of the beta cells diminishes, and medications may be needed. Many health challenges come along with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. With prolonged blood sugar dysregulation, the blood vessels and nerves become damaged affecting the eyes, heart, kidneys, brain, and extremities. In this article, we will talk about type 2 diabetes and ways to support healthy blood sugar regulation with the help of Ayurvedic herbs.
First, how do you know if you are developing type 2 diabetes? Hemoglobin A1c is a simple blood test that checks blood sugar regulation over a 2-3 month period of time. If your A1c is less than 5.7% then you are in the normal range. A 5.7%-6.4% means you are categorized as “prediabetes” and action is needed. An A1c of 6.5% or higher will give you the diagnosis of diabetes. You may also have been experiencing symptoms such as increased thirst, urination, and increased hunger. It doesn’t mean it is too late to utilize Ayurvedic herbs or work on diet and lifestyle. In fact, a study comparing 5 grams of Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) twice daily before meals to placebo showed significant decreases in diabetic patient’s A1c in just 60 days. They also had decreased fasting blood glucose, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), diastolic blood pressure, and reported an improved quality of life (3). Work with a practitioner and monitor your sugars so you can safely use herbs, diet, and lifestyle techniques in conjunction with medications.
Did you know stress affects blood sugar? It is our evolutionary response to release stored sugar into our bloodstream so we can have fuel to run from danger. If we are stressed, our body releases hormones that spike blood sugar and decrease our sensitivity to insulin. Individuals who have diabetes find it harder to manage blood sugar during times of increased stress. One of my favorite tools to decrease the stress response in the body is pranayama or Ayurvedic breathing techniques. Try the technique at the end of this article and see how different you feel in just 10 breaths.
A study on diabetic patients used an hour of pranayama a day along with Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) to successfully decrease blood sugar, lipids, and other metabolic markers that indicate disease progression. Participants also reported decreased anxiety and an overall improved feeling of well-being. Amla was shown to regenerate and rejuvenate the Beta cells of the pancreas, leading to increased insulin production and secretion (8). It is high in antioxidants including vitamin C and carotenoids. It also contains minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and chromium. Chromium has been proven to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar along with providing protection to the heart (5).
With the last name Sweet, I am not a purist when it comes to sugar but not all sugar is created equally. In fact, raw-unfiltered honey mirrors glycogen and has been shown to stabilize blood sugar and help prolong sleep (2). When honey has not been heated or filtered, it contains many proteins, enzymes, and immune supporting properties. Individuals who have blood sugar dysregulation often experience difficulties sleeping. Why? When your blood sugar gets too low, the only way for glycogen to be broken down into glucose and dispersed into the blood while sleeping is for your body to release cortisol. Cortisol is one of our stress hormones and it directly inhibits melatonin, our sleep hormone. One of my favorite recipes for stabilizing blood sugar is ‘Dr. Sweet’s Nighttime Beverage’ with raw-unfiltered honey, Rebel Herb’s Ceylon Cinnamon and Moringa. Keep reading and you’ll find the recipe below!
Ceylon or ‘True’ cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) has been shown to stabilize blood sugar by “reducing postprandial intestinal glucose absorption by inhibiting the activity of pancreatic α-amylase and α- glucosidase, stimulating cellular glucose uptake by membrane translocation of GLUT-4, stimulating glucose metabolism and glycogen synthesis, inhibiting gluconeogenesis by effects on key regulatory enzymes and stimulating insulin release and potentiating insulin receptor activity” (7). What does all that mean? Basically, it targets various biochemical processes in the body to decrease and regulate blood sugar. True cinnamon is also delicious, in my opinion, so it’s easy to incorporate into food as medicine.