If you’re diabetic, you’re already well aware of just how vital Insulin is within the human body, but let’s brush up a little, just in case…
Insulin is a peptide hormone, comprised of over 50 amino acids in a specific sequence, secreted by your Pancreas in response to food consumption. It’s primary job is to drive glucose (sugar) into your muscle cell, fat cells, and liver.
Additionally, Insulin triggers the body to stop burning fat and instead start storing it. This makes intuitive sense if you think about it for a moment…Body fat is simply stored energy so, when you eat, your body has no reason to burn…so it stores it instead.
This is the often forgotten aspect of Insulin but it is, in all honesty, the reason why everyone (in America) is so fat these days. Guzzling sugary drinks and eating way more carbs than necessary all day every day keeps our Insulin levels high, resulting in fat storage over time.
Unfortunately, the negative impact of secreting a bunch of Insulin doesn’t end with an increased likelihood of fat accumulation. It gets a lot worse…
Insulin Resistance occurs when the Pancreas is forced to produce more and more Insulin. Generally speaking, this is diet-induced. If you eat bags of chips and drink soda all day, even if you don’t think you’re consuming many calories, you could be massively spiking your Insulin levels.
The magnitude and the frequency of those spikes will determine your Insulin Sensitivity. The more Insulin you force your body to produce, the more resistance you become.
Insulin Sensitivity is simply the opposite of Insulin Resistance. The more sensitive your are to Insulin, the less Insulin your body is required to produce. Most of those guys (or girls) you see in the gym who are freakishly cut have great Insulin Sensitivity.
Human beings are genetically predisposed to different levels of Insulin Resistance, but anyone can reduce Insulin Resistance and improve Insulin Sensitivity in a few ways:
Diabetes is a widely misunderstood condition by those who don’t suffer from it. Perhaps if more people were aware just how easy to it to slip into a state of increasing Insulin Resistance, eventually resulting in Adult Onset Diabetes, they might make some lifestyle changes early on to avoid it.
Generally speaking, a person is Diabetic when the ability of the Pancreas to produce Insulin is severely reduced or completely non-existent.
Although the progression of Diabetes varies from person to person and generally takes time to develop. It’s not simple “contracted” like other diseases, but make no mistake, it is a disease and must be treated accordingly.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is when, for reasons unknown, the body’s immune system destroys/damages the Pancreatic beta-cells that traditionally produce Insulin, rendering the body unable to produce Insulin or only able to produce a tiny amount. Insulin injections are typically required to compensate.
About 5-10% of Diabetics are Type 1. It usually develops in childhood or you adulthood but can happen at any time.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes, sometimes referred to as “Adault Onset Diabetes” makes up the other 90% of Diabetics. Just like Type 1, Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by an inability of Insulin to do its job, but for a different reason. The Pancreas is able to secrete Insulin, but the body is unable to use it efficiently. Most of the time, Insulin injections are required although the degree matters.
There are also several oral drugs and supplements which lower blood glucose or augment Insulin signaling, but we’ll discuss those later…
Exercise And Blood Sugar
When you exercise, you increase the demand for energy, your body’s preferred source of which is Glucose, of course.
One of Insulin’s primary roles (it does have many) is to drive Glucose into muscle tissue, fat tissue, and the liver. Without it, you’re ability to handle the nutrients (carbs and protein) you’re eating will be severely hindered. If you’re blood sugar gets too high, a multitude of complications can occur…including death.
Exercise has been proven time and time again to have a beneficial impact on blood Glucose levels and Insulin sensitivity.
Nutrition and Supplements aside…
Exercising regularly is the single most effective thing you can do to avoid developing Diabetes later in life.
It should come as no surprise that early human beings—the one’s that spent 12 hours a day running and hunting—had virtually no likelihood of developing Diabetes. It probably happened randomly (Type 1 can be pretty random), but for the most part, our modern diet is what has caused this dramatic spike in the Diabetes rate.
Much of the childhood Obesity epidemic—which is of course directly correlated with the childhood Diabetes epidemic—is believed to be due to the ridiculous amount of sugary drinks consumed by children.
It’s gotten to the point where kids don’t even want water anymore…
“Ew! Gimme Something Sweet!” says your annoying little 3 year old kid…and since they’re so annoying you just indulge them by giving them some juice.
“Juice is made from fruit so it’s all good” you tell yourself.
Well, that may be true, but the macronutrient content of any fruit is predominantly simple sugar (Fructose) and unless it’s an actual piece of fruit with Fiber in it to reduce the speed of absorption, all that juice is doing is spiking little Jimmy’s Insulin levels through the roof.
Do it day after day and it’s only a matter of time until little Jimmy develops Type 2 Diabetes.
The most important thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of you or your child from developing Type 2 Diabetes is cut out the sugary drinks through the day. All that sugar forces the Pancreas to produce more and more Insulin until finally…it just says “fuck it, I’m done”, and you’re Diabetic.
Once that happens, you’re only hope is to eat healthy and exercise regularly like you never have before. What most people don’t realize is that Diabetes, especially Type 2 Diabetes, can be well-managed to the point that you can live a perfectly healthy lifestyle.
It’s just that most pharmaceutical companies would rather sell you a bunch of Insulin and just tell you keep taking it, rather than tell you have the natural ways to reduce your dependence on Insulin and control your blood sugar…
Well, that’s what we’re here for, which brings us to our next area of managing Blood Sugar, Insulin Sensitivity, and Diabetes…
Supplements That Actually Work
There’s a lot of anti-supplement propaganda out there, mostly proliferated by pharmaceutical companies who feel threatened by the fact that some supplements have been scientifically proven to given certain pharmaceutical medication a run for their money (in terms of efficacy).
The truth is, there are supplements out there which are safe, effective, and a whole lot cheaper than their pharmaceutical counterparts.
When it comes to controlling blood sugar, improving Insulin Sensitivity, and reducing dependence on Insulin injections, there are a few supplements which have been studied extensively and are VERY useful…
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), not to be confused with Alpha Linoleic Acid, is a fatty acid with anti-oxidant properties that give it a wide array of potential health benefits.
While many of these potential benefits remain under-explored by modern science, the impact of Alpha Lipoic Acid on blood sugar has been studied fairly extensively.
A 2012 study published in the Asia Pacific Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found that Type 2 Diabetics treated with varying doses of Alpha Lipoic Acid (300, 600, 900, 1200/day) showed dose-dependent (the more the better) reductions in fasting blood glucose, indicating an Insulin-augmenting type effect.
An early study from 2011 published in Diabetes Care which spanned over 4 years found that Alpha Lipoic Acid treatment reduced symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy (an all-too-common side effect of Diabetes) which generally effects nerve endings in extremities, causing discomfort and sometimes, severe pain.
This study also noted a trend toward decreases in Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c), an indication of how well diabetes is being controlled.
When you step back and look at the research, it becomes clear that Alpha Lipoic Acid, while not a treatment for Diabetes on its own, can certainly help control blood sugar and lessen Insulin Resistance.
R comes from the Latin word “rectus”, meaning Right. S comes from the Latin term “sinister”, meaning Left.
In chemistry, such a chemical structure is referred to as “racemic” meaning the Chiral Center of the molecule consists of just one atom (in this case Nitrogen) which connects two mirror image sides of the molecule known as enantiomers.
When it comes to Alpha Lipoic Acid, source matters more than anything because only the Dextrorotatory (R-ALA) form is biologically active. The Levorotatory (S-ALA) is biologically useless.
To Be Crystal Clear
The R enantiomer of a any molecule can be Levorotatory and the S enantiomer can be Dextrorotary, or vice versa. It just so happens that, when it comes to Alpha Lipoic Acid, the Dextrorotary portion is the R enantiomer which is the biologically active part that you should be interested in if supplementing with Alpha Lipoic Acid
Realistically, when you’re taking a supplement labeled Alpha Lipoic Acid (half S isomer, half R isomer) you’re only getting half the amount of biologically active substance (R-ALA) and the rest is poorly absorbed at best and possible complete wasted.
The Primary Issue With R-ALA
Unfortunately, R-ALA has it’s drawbacks. It’s extremely unstable under pretty normal (slightly hot) conditions and is prone to Polymerization. Polymerization is simply the combining of monomers (single molecule) into polymers (chains of moers).
If you order some R-Lipoic Acid powder and it arrives as a solid brick, you’ll immediately understand the issue of polymerization. The jury’s still out on how polymerization impacts absorption, but logic would suggest that it certainly doesn’t help.
Traditional Alpha Lipoic Acid (half R-ALA, half S-ALA) may be half useless, but at least it’s stable. R-ALA is seriously annoying to work with and probably not really worth it for most people unless you keep it in a de-humidified, cold room.
Don’t Worry, There’s A Solution
It’s called Na-R-ALA, or Sodium R-Lipoic Acid. It’s simply R-ALA bonded with Sodium, making it entirely stable, easily dissolved in water, and more importantly, well-absorbed.
Assuming it’s quality Na-R-ALA (produced by GeroNova), Na-RALA is considerably more bioavailable than either R-Lipoic Acid or the racemic mixture (Alpha Lipoic Acid)
Since Na-R-ALA yields 80% R-Lipoic Acid, you’ll need 250mg to achieve at 200mg (clinical) dose of R-ALA.
Berberine is a unique molecule which can found in a variety of plants and has anti-diabetic (blood glucose lowering) effects which rival those of prescription diabetic medications.
It works via activation of AMPK (with special affinity for the AMPKa1 subset), an enzyme which acts as a “master switch” by stimulating glucose uptake into muscle tissues and fatty acid oxidation as well.
Berberine is remarkably potent. It has been shown to be nearly as potent as 2,4-thiazolidinedione (a prescription diabetes drug) with regards to stimulating Glucose uptake into fat cells. It has also been shown to synergistically enhance the effects of diabetic medications, Metformin and Troglitazon
In a 2008 pilot study published in Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, researchers sought to determine if Berberine could help with Type 2 Diabetes. They enlisted 36 Type 2 Diabetic patients who were assigned into 2 groups:
- Metformin (prescription Diabetes drug)
- Berberine (supplement)
A 2010 study published in Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental found that Berberine supplementation effectively lowered Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG) and improved Insulin signaling in subjects with Type 2 Diabetes.
The researchers in this study also pointed out that the mechanisms by which Berberine elicits these effects is not the same as the Diabetes drugs Metformin and Rosiglitazone, meaning there’s a possibility for adjunct therapy that’s more effective than either individual treatment option on it’s own.
A later 2012 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that subjects with Metabolic Syndrome (Pre-Diabetes) who supplemented with 900mg Berberine per day for 12 weeks experienced a significant decrease in BMI and Leptin levels, not to mention enhanced Insulin signaling.
Out of all the supplements on this list, Berberine is by far the most powerful, having been shown to be just as effective—on most parameters—as some prescription diabetic drugs.
Due to it’s widespread use throughout the ancient world it’s known by several different names, depending on the geographical region and dialect spoken there. Here are some of the most poular:
- Meshashrunga – Bengali (Southern Asian/Indo-Aryan
- Gudmar – Gujarati (Western India/Indo-European)
- Madhunashine – Kannada (India)
- Kawlj – Konkani (Indo-European)
- Lakshmi – Oriya (East Indian)
Fortunately for us (and you), Gymnema sylvestre has been studied to the extent that researchers have identified the compounds responsible for the hypoglycemic effects, known as Gymnemic Acids:
This molecule may seem extremely complex. That’s because it actually consists of several sub-components, the most important of which have been identified as:
In an earlier (1990) study published in Ethnopharmacology that GS4, researchers investigated the effects of GS4, a water soluble extract of Gymnema sylvestre, in Insulin-dependent Diabetic patients.
They found that:
“GS4 therapy appears to enhance endogenous insulin, possibly by regeneration/revitalisation of the residual beta cells in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.”
While the precise mechanism by which it works has yet to be identified, research indicates that Gymnema sylvestre (or it’s active components) works partially by blocking sugar-binding sites, thereby preventing sugar accumulation.
Be Careful With Extracts
This is not specific to Gymnema sylvestre. It should be a major concern when dealing with any sort of herbal supplement that contains unknown levels of active components.
There are a ton of Gymnema sylvestre supplements out there which are comprised of various parts of the plant (sometimes not disclosed) which contain varying concentrations of the active components. For that reason, it’s important to go with a standardized extract from a brand you can trust.
If it doesn’t say the standardization on the bottle, it’s probably not standardized, meaning it’s probably worthless.
After all, if you had a supplement company and went through all the trouble of cultivating and extracting Gymnema sylvestre so precisely, you would want to put that on the label as a selling point.
No standardization, no deal!
The Bottom Line On Blood-Glucose/Diabetes Supplements
So this is the part where I get sued by the Pharmaceutical companies that make drugs like Metformin and Rosiglitazone because the truth is, they don’t want you to be aware that there are supplements are there which are just as good, require no prescription, and are WAY cheaper.
That’s just the way the supplement industry is. Anytime a supplement exhibits benefits on par with a prescription drug, the pharma companies that produce that drug are unhappy. They don’t want people to know about these alternative treatments.
And since the FDA is in Big Pharma’s pocket, they tend to target these types of supplements at random, depending on who’s market share is being encroached upon.
In the case of Gymnema sylvestre, it’s a plant…so it’ll be hard for the FDA to figure out a way to ban it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.