Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Blood sugar imbalance is today’s biggest hidden health hazard. It affects nearly one in three Americans, yet three-quarters of those with the condition aren’t even aware of it. Such an imbalance, however, is a precursor to a host of ills.
Blood Sugar Basics
Levels of blood sugar, also called blood glucose, signal whether the body is performing the basic functions in an optimum way. Once the process goes awry, health begins to suffer. Routine tests check for elevated fasting blood sugar to determine risk for or presence of diabetes. However, elevated blood sugar isn’t the first sign of an imbalance.
Normal Function: When we eat, our bodies convert carbohydrates into blood glucose, causing levels to rise. In response, the pancreas produces insulin, which delivers glucose to cells where it’s used as fuel. So there are normal fluctuations in blood sugar-it rises after meals and dips as the fuel is absorbed by cells-but these shouldn’t be extreme.
Insulin Resistance: Too much sugar, lack of exercise, and excess body fat lead to insulin resistance-where the cells are unable to absorb glucose as they should. To compensate, the pancreas pumps out extra insulin, so blood sugar levels appear normal for a while. Classic symptoms include stubborn belly fat and uncomfortable PMS or menopause-related symptoms in women. As insulin resistance continues unabated, the extra insulin production can no longer force cells to absorb fuel, and blood sugar levels become elevated. It’s at this point that standard blood sugar tests detect a problem.
Limiting excess sugar in your diet is the first step to restoring healthy blood sugar balance, according to research from the University of California, San Francisco, published in the journal Nature. Eating smaller portions, with lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains at each meal helps to keep blood sugar stable and prevent disruption.
Exercise is also important. Studies show that a combination of aerobic exercise and weight training improves insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar balance. If you’re overweight, simply losing 5-7 percent of your total weight reduces your risk for diabetes by about 60 percent.
Daily supplements of B-complex vitamins, best taken in a multivitamin, and 1-3 grams of fish oil can also help support a healthy metabolism. And the following herbs and nutrients can also help maintain or restore optimum blood sugar balance.
Alpha Lipoic Acid. Diabetic neuropathy-damage to nerves that causes pain and numbness-is common with diabetes. By improving blood sugar balance, alpha lipoic acid helps relieve the condition, according to research published in Diabetes Care.
Bitter Melon.Bitter melon improves insulin sensitivity and enhances the body’s ability to utilize carbohydrates. In a study published in Phytomedicine, it was as effective as Avandia in treating diabetes, without the side effects.
Chromium. According to a research review published in Diabetes Care, chromium supports optimum metabolism of carbohydrates and improves blood sugar function in people with diabetes.
Cinnamon. Cinnamon has been found to improve blood sugar levels in diabetics and those at risk for the disease. In research published in Diabetic Medicine: A Journal of the British Diabetic Association, it reduced blood pressure and blood sugar.
Fenugreek. In a study published in The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India, fenugreek improved insulin sensitivity and lowered levels of insulin and triglycerides, another blood fat that’s harmful when elevated.
Gymnema sylvestre. This Ayurvedic treatment helps by increasing insulin production, according to a British study published in Phytotherapy Research.
Magnesium. Low levels of magnesium predispose people to insulin resistance, but supplements can help, according to research published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. The benefit has been shown in both healthy people and those at risk for or suffering from type 2 diabetes.
PGX. A patented type of fiber, PGX helps stabilize blood sugar and enhance weight loss. According to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it slows the conversion of carbs into blood sugar.
Phase 2. A patented extract from white beans, Phase 2 blocks the absorption of starch. Numerous studies show that this helps balance blood sugar levels and promotes weight loss. One study, published in The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, found that 1,500 mg of Phase 2 reduced starch absorption by 66 percent.
Resveratrol.A recent study found that resveratrol improves insulin sensitivity and keeps blood sugar levels more stable. Effective dosages range from 1-2 grams daily, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.
Salacia. Salacia inhibits enzymes that break down some types of sugar, resulting in the sugar being excreted as waste instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream. In studies, it has decreased insulin and blood glucose levels by up to 29 and 23 percent, respectively.
Vitamin D. A research review, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people with the highest levels of vitamin D had 43 percent less risk for diabetes as compared to people with the lowest levels of vitamin D.
Has your blood sugar gone awry?
If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, your blood sugar may be out of balance. Changing these habits can help you restore and maintain balance
You’ll find all types of products designed to help you heal insulin resistance and regulate blood sugar. Here are a few we like.
Garden of Life
provides 350 mg of raw fermented resveratarol-as much as 200 bottles of red wine-along with live probiotics and enzymes.
Slice of Life Diabetic Health Complete Multi+ with Cinnamon are chewy gummies that offer a range of vitamins and minerals plus cinnamon to help promote healthy blood glucose levels.
Himalaya Herbal Healthcare
GlucoCare combines bitter melon, guggul, gymnema, and other herbs clinically shown to help keep blood sugar levels within normal range.
Lily of the Desert
Gluc-aloe contains a proprietary form of aloe vera extract, which has been shown to counteract unhealthy reactions from high-carb meals and support healthy blood sugar.
Kyolic Blood Sugar Balance is a blend of Aged Garlic Extract, salacia, bitter melon, chromium picolinate, and niacin-specifically formulated to support healthy blood sugar levels.