Blood sugar problems are all too common, and the number of people with diabetes is alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 30 million people (about 9 percent of the US population) has diabetes. Another 7 million people have the condition and don’t even know it. Even more concerning, 84 million Americans have prediabetes, which dramatically increases risk of full-blown diabetes.
Blood sugar (also called glucose) is the fuel that runs your body, and it comes from the food you eat. Blood sugar problems occur when glucose levels aren't balanced—they're either too high or too low. It’s important to get a handle on blood sugar fluctuations and stop the blood sugar roller coaster.
When Blood Sugar Is High
Most people know that diabetes occurs when you have chronically elevated blood glucose. The two main types of diabetes are type I and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes because it usually appears before the age of 20, although it can present itself at any age. It results from the inability of the pancreas to produce adequate insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is far more prevalent. Like type 1, type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar is high. However, type 2 diabetics make plenty of insulin. The problem is that the insulin receptor sites on the cells’ surfaces won’t open up to let glucose and other nutrients in. This condition is known as insulin resistance. When this occurs, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to get glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
As type 2 diabetes progresses, the insulin-producing beta cells become exhausted and their insulin production gradually slows or ceases altogether.
High blood sugar and diabetes are usually discovered during a routine fasting blood glucose test. High readings typically range from 150 to 300 mg/dL. People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of suffering and dying from heart disease and stroke than those without diabetes. Other serious complications include eye and vision problems, neuropathy, kidney disease, and liver and gum problems.
While high blood sugar can certainly have a dramatic impact on your health, low blood sugar can also be a concern.
When Blood Sugar Is Low
Hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood falls below the level needed to maintain adequate energy for normal bodily functions. Hypoglycemia usually occurs in response to eating high-glycemic carbohydrate foods that cause a blood sugar spike, followed by a blood sugar crash.
Blood sugar levels are too low when they drop below 70 mg/dL. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Cravings for sweet food
- Feeling jittery or lightheaded
- In extreme cases, hallucinations and loss of consciousness can occur
Severe symptoms are virtually always associated with diabetes drugs, which often drive blood sugar too low. But hypoglycemia can also affect people without diabetes.
Management of hypoglycemia includes eliminating high-glycemic carbohydrates such as sugar, bread, white rice, and anything made with refined grains. These foods are quickly broken down into glucose, causing sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. Your pancreas churns out extra insulin to lower blood sugar, and it sometimes overshoots its mark, dropping levels into the hypoglycemic range.
Focus on eating mainly fiber-rich vegetables and legumes because they help to prevent major blood sugar fluctuations.
In place of three square meals a day, try to eat smaller meals more frequently. Include a moderate amount of protein with each meal and snack, and go easy on fruit. Be sure to also limit your alcohol intake, and drink it only with food.
A good daily multivitamin is also a good idea. It can help ensure you are getting enough chromium, B vitamins, and other nutrients involved in blood sugar metabolism to prevent signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is often an indicator of more serious blood sugar problems to come. Cleaning up your diet and improving your nutritional status can help stave off future problems.
Treating Blood Sugar Problems Naturally
With both high and low blood sugar problems, a natural treatment approach is always the best option. This includes proper diet, exercise, and targeted supplements.
I am a big proponent of intermittent fasting combined with aerobic exercise for patients with type 2 diabetes. It puts the body in a fat-burning mode called ketosis, which helps with weight loss.
Here’s how the mini-fast program works:
- Have a glass of water or a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, but do not to eat or drink anything else. If you would like, you can use a small amount of stevia or xylitol in your coffee or tea.
- Do some form of aerobic exercise (walking, running, swimming, biking, a spin class, etc.) for 20 to 45 minutes.
- After exercise, drink water, tea, or coffee, but do not eat until lunchtime.
- Around noon, you can break your fast and have lunch and normal meals the rest of the day. Be sure to include lean protein and make wise food choices throughout the day, including plenty of vegetables and low-glycemic carbohydrates.
The min-fast program goes against traditional thinking that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But there’s a lot of solid research supporting the benefits of skipping breakfast and waiting until noon to eat.
The Best Blood Sugar Control Supplements
To prevent blood sugar problems, I recommend adding certain blood sugar-supportive supplements to your regimen as well.
Diabetes is a nutritional wasting disease. High blood sugar causes substantial loss of nutrients in the urine. This is the reason people with type 2 diabetes are often deficient in important water-soluble vitamins and minerals. For this reason, I can’t stress enough how important it is for anyone with diabetes to take, at the very least, a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement.
Supplements also play a critical role because they support the body’s ability to use insulin, which is critical in helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid blood sugar problems. Here are just a few of my recommendations:
- Berberine is a phytonutrient abundant in exotic plants such as goldenseal, Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenthread. Berberine is hands down my top blood sugar control supplement, and for good reason. In one clinical trial, berberine was shown to work just as well as metformin, the leading diabetes drug! The recommended dose of berberine is 500 mg three times a day with meals.
- Cinnamomum cassia, otherwise known as cinnamon, is important because it promotes the absorption of berberine in the intestines and increases its concentration in the blood. My recommendation is 1,000 mg daily.
- Chromium is a trace mineral found in potato skins, brewer’s yeast, nuts, oysters, nuts, and liver. It works by improving the action of insulin and helping to move glucose (and other nutrients) into the cells. There are dozens of well-designed clinical trials demonstrating the effectiveness of chromium in patients with blood sugar problems. My recommendation is 200–500 mcg of chromium picolinate daily.
- Vitamins B6 and B12 specifically support nerve health, which is important for addressing diabetic neuropathy. Additionally, biotin is necessary for both metabolism and cell growth, and plays a key role in the metabolism of fats and amino acids. My recommendation is 5 mg of B6, 150 mcg of B12, and 300 mcg of biotin daily.
Bottom line: It’s important to keep blood sugar under control with healthy diet, exercise, and targeted blood sugar control supplements. Doing so will help you live a healthier life and stave off much more serious blood sugar problems like diabetes and hypoglycemia.