GABA is one of the most valuable supplements when it comes to restoring beta cells. In type I diabetes and in end stage type II diabetes, beta cell mass is largely reduced, which translates to markedly decreased insulin production. Without any beta cells, there is no way for the body to lower plasma glucose levels. In a mouse study, it was not just proven that GABA could simply exhibit protective effects on pancreatic beta cells, but amazingly … it also reversed type I diabetes in severely diabetic mice by restoring B cell mass. (66) In a human study by Cavagnini et al in the early 1980s, 5 to 10grams caused a “significant” and “dose-dependent” increase in insulin, indicating a boost in pancreatic function. (67)
GABA is produced naturally in the body, so oral GAGA is generally regarded as safe, even in higher levels. There have been unpleasant side effects (eg. wheezing, anxiety, rapid heart rate, etc) when ingesting 10g, the highest dose used in the study above, but these side effects can be relieved if GABA is started small and built up to the higher doses (5g or 10g) over the course of a few weeks.
Gymnema sylvestre is an exciting herb in terms of diabetes as it dually offsets an increase in blood sugar and antagonizes obesity by delaying glucose uptake in the blood. (10) By preventing and/or mitigating obesity, gymnema is able to simultaneously treat the life-threatening symptoms of the disease as well as the major source of it.
In a study of 22 type II diabetic patients already receiving treatment with conventional oral anti-hyperglycemic agents, 400mg of Gymnema sylvestre was added as an adjunct in the preexisting treatment. During the 18-20 months of supplementation, significant decreases in blood glucose, glycated hemoglobin/ HbA1c (glucose level averaged over ~2 months), and glycated plasma proteins were observed. Additionally, insulin levels were raised, suggestive of beta cell regeneration. Due to the powerful hypoglycemic effect of Gymnema, conventional therapy was reduced. Remarkably, 5 of the 22 patients were able to discontinue the conventional drugs completely and remain on Gymnema alone. (11)
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum):
On top of its numerous uses, modern medicine is just recently recognizing this revered plant’s antidiabetic properties. Following a successful rat study, fasting glucose and 2hr postprandial glucose levels fell by 17.6% and 7.3% respectively in a single-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover trial. (78) In another Indian study, 1 gram of holy basil effectively lowered blood glucose by 20.8% in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes already taking hypoglycemic agents. (79) In order to accomplish this noteworthy effect on blood sugar, holy basil operates by exerting a stimulatory effect on insulin. (80) It was found that holy basil lowers cortisol (81), which is a potent inducer of insulin resistance, hence the condition ‘corticosteroid-induced diabetes’. Chronic stress mimics the effects of corticosteroids, so the adverse effects on insulin from natural stress can also be at least partially alleviated by holy basil.
After potassium, magnesium is second most abundant intracellular cation. Almost all magnesium is in bones or stored intracellularly. In addition, it is also a cofactor of enzymes involved in glucose metabolism. (27) Low levels of intracellular magnesium will block glucose entrance into cells, leading to defective clearance of plasma glucose. It should then come as no surprise that plasma magnesium levels are inversely associated with insulin resistance caused by intracellular irregularities. During the sharp increase in diabetes in the US between 1994 and 2001, calcium-to-magnesium ratios in food significantly rose. (28) The association is certainly not accidental.
High doses of magnesium (2.5g of Mg chloride) were shown to enhance insulin sensitivity even in non-diabetic individuals by improving beta cell function. (29) In diabetic subjects, normalization of magnesium intake (once again, by 2.5g of Mg chloride) evidenced by a significant rise in magnesium levels directly correlated to reduced insulin resistance, lower fasting glucose levels, and improved glycated hemoglobin (long term glucose control). (30) Even supplementation with much lower dosages of magnesium (~300mg) have resulted in increased insulin sensitivity and better glucose control in both diabetic and non-diabetic insulin-resistant subjects. (31-32)
The strong decline in fruits and vegetables coupled with depleted magnesium (and other minerals) in soil from intense farming practices has caused an extremely high prevalence of magnesium deficiency. Most people, whether diabetic or not, will highly benefit from about 500mg extra magnesium from supplements. The most inexpensive and popular form, magnesium oxide, is poorly absorbed … often causing loose bowels in many, which will paradoxically lead to a greater magnesium deficiency, along with the loss of other minerals. Highly bioavailable forms are encouraged such as magnesium amino acid chelate, citrate, malate, taurate, chelate, citrate, malate, and glycinate. Like other minerals, magnesium is best absorbed in frequent small doses throughout the day – no more than 200-250mg at a time. Higher amounts ingested at once will be excreted out of the body and compete with other minerals being absorbed simultaneously.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum):
This plant is used in herbal medicine to treat a multitude of conditions, one of which is diabetes. In a 4 month long placebo-controlled study, administration of 200mg of silymarin (milk thistle) 3 times per day produced meaningful declines in fasting glucose and HbA1c (average glucose level over a few months). (76) Another controlled study using 600mg of silymarin per day found the same results – a decrease in fasting glucose along with a decline in HbA1c levels after 4 months. Additionally, insulin requirements from the conventional therapy were reduced in the silymarin group and conversely increased in the control group. (77) Because silymarin is rich with antioxidants, it is able to exert potent effects on glycemic profiles.
Nigella Sativa/Black Cumin:
This Southwest Asian annual flowering plant is a potentially important natural remedy for early insulin resistance and diabetes since it helps to restore the function of pancreatic beta cells that secrete insulin to normalize blood glucose. If pancreatic beta cells do not function properly, insulin secretion is jeopardized. Nigella sativa works to combat the effects of insulin resistance by regenerating these crucial insulin-producing cells.
The mechanism of Nigella was elucidated from study in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. Streptozotocin is commonly used to evoke diabetes in laboratory animals through its toxic effect on beta cells. When N. sativa oil was given to rats after the administration of streptozotocin, the diabetic condition improved by the partial restoration of beta cell function. (18) Additionally, streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats in another study treated with N. sativa showed reduced glucose output in the liver. (19)
By regenerating beta cells and decreasing tissue-specific glucose output, N. sativa can safely combat the effects of diabetes and early insulin inefficiency. In the second rat study, 5mg per kg was needed to produce the strongest effects. Higher doses revealed no greater efficacy.
Note*** If purchasing N. sativa, keep in mind that while it can also be referred to as ‘black cumin’, black cumin may also be used to refer to Bunium bulbocastanum.
(References in last section)