logo for integrative cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Thaik

Natural Treatment For Type 2 Diabetes

female health practitioner explaining treatment to a female patient

Holistic and Natural Treatment For Type 2 Diabetes

More than 37 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops in people over age 45, but more and more children, teens, and young adults are also developing it. Unlike many health conditions, diabetes is managed mostly by you, with support from your healthcare team.

The goal of all type 2 diabetes treatments is to keep your blood sugar level in check. Your doctor will typically advise increased exercise, more nutritious foods, and monitoring your blood sugar level as part of managing your lifestyle. You may also need to take medication to achieve target blood sugar (glucose) levels.

But did you know that many common herbs and spices are proven to have glucose-lowering properties that make them useful for people with or at high risk of type 2 diabetes? At Holistic Healing Heart Center, we see many patients with type 2 diabetes, and often recommend herbs and supplements as part of the whole-person approach to managing the disease. 

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel. This chronic condition results in too much sugar circulating in the bloodstream. Eventually, high blood sugar levels can lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, a genetic condition that often shows up early in life, Type 2 diabetes results from the perfect storm of not enough movement, poor nutrition, emotional stress, lack of sleep, toxins, and genetics.  

In type 2 diabetes, there are primarily two problems. First, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into the cells. And second, cells respond poorly to insulin and take in less sugar.

The History of Diabetes

The term diabetes mellitus comes from the Greek word “diabetes” (to siphon or pass through) and the Latin word “mellitus” (honey or sweet). Over 3,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians mentioned a condition that appears to have been type 1 diabetes. It featured excessive urination, thirst, and weight loss. The writers recommended following a diet of whole grains to reduce the symptoms.

By the fifth century C.E., people in India and China had worked out that there was a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They noted that type 2 diabetes was more common in heavy, wealthy people than in other people. At that time, this might have implied that these individuals ate more food than other people and were less active. In 1776, Matthew Dobson confirmed that the urine of people with diabetes could have a sweet taste. According to an article that the journal Medical Observations and Enquiries published, he measured the glucose in urine and found that it was high in people with diabetes. Dobson also noted that diabetes could be fatal in some people but chronic in others, further clarifying the differences between type 1 and type 2.

In 1936, Sir Harold Percival Himsworth published research that differentiated between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. He theorized that many people had insulin resistance rather than insulin deficiency. Insulin resistance is one factor that leads to type 2 diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. In fact, you may be living with type 2 diabetes for years and not know it. When signs and symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck

Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed using the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test indicates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. Results are interpreted as follows:

  • Below 5.7% is normal.
  • 5.7% to 6.4% are diagnosed with prediabetes.
  • 6.5% or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes.

If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor or healthcare provider may do other tests to distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes — since the two conditions often require different treatments.

Risk Factors For Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a complex condition influenced by various risk factors. Understanding these risk factors can help patients assess their likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes and take appropriate preventive measures. Here are some common risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight. Being overweight or obese is a main risk.
  • Fat distribution. Storing fat mainly in the abdomen — rather than the hips and thighs — indicates a greater risk. The risk of type 2 diabetes is higher in men with a waist circumference above 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) and in women with a waist measurement above 35 inches (88.9 centimeters).
  • Inactivity. The less active a person is, the greater the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps control weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes cells more sensitive to insulin.
  • Family history. An individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes increases if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
  • Race and ethnicity. Although it’s unclear why, people of certain races and ethnicities — including Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian people, and Pacific Islanders — are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than white people are.
  • Blood lipid levels. An increased risk is associated with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — and high levels of triglycerides.
  • Age. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age, especially after age 35.
  • Prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which the blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Left untreated, prediabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes.
  • Pregnancy-related risks. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher in people who had gestational diabetes when they were pregnant and in those who gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms).
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. Having polycystic ovary syndrome — a condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, and obesity — increases the risk of diabetes.

Medication For Type 2 Diabetes

If you cannot maintain your target blood sugar level with diet and exercise, your doctor may prescribe diabetes medications that help lower insulin levels or insulin therapy. Drug treatments for type 2 diabetes include the following.

  • Metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, others) is generally the first medication prescribed for type 2 diabetes. It works primarily by lowering glucose production in the liver and improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin so that your body uses insulin more effectively.
  • Sulfonylureas help your body secrete more insulin. Examples include glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase), glipizide (Glucotrol) and glimepiride (Amaryl)
  • Glinides stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin. They’re faster acting than sulfonylureas, and the duration of their effect in the body is shorter. Examples include repaglinide and nateglinide. 
  • Thiazolidinediones make the body’s tissues more sensitive to insulin. Examples include rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos). 
  • DPP-4 inhibitors help reduce blood sugar levels but tend to have a very modest effect. Examples include sitagliptin (Januvia), saxagliptin (Onglyza) and linagliptin (Tradjenta). 
  • GLP-1 receptor agonists are injectable medications that slow digestion and help lower blood sugar levels. Their use is often associated with weight loss, and some may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Examples include exenatide (Byetta, Bydureon), liraglutide (Saxenda, Victoza) and semaglutide (Rybelsus, Ozempic). 

Other medications your doctor might prescribe in addition to diabetes medications include blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications, as well as low-dose aspirin, to help prevent heart and blood vessel disease.

Some people who have type 2 diabetes need insulin therapy. In the past, insulin therapy was used as a last resort, but today it may be prescribed sooner if blood sugar targets aren’t met with lifestyle changes and other medications.

Understanding the A1C Test

The A1C test—also known as the hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test—is a simple blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. When sugar enters your bloodstream, it attaches to hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. Everybody has some sugar attached to their hemoglobin, but people with higher blood sugar levels have more. The A1C test measures the percentage of your red blood cells that have sugar-coated hemoglobin.

The test is done in a doctor’s office or a lab using a sample of blood from a finger stick or from your arm. You don’t need to do anything special to prepare for your A1C test. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to get an A1C test at least twice a year, more often if your medicine changes or if you have other health conditions. Talk to your doctor about how often is right for you.

A normal A1C level is below 5.7%, a level of 5.7% to 6.4% indicates prediabetes, and a level of 6.5% or more indicates diabetes. Within the 5.7% to 6.4% prediabetes range, the higher your A1C, the greater your risk is for developing type 2 diabetes.

However, your personal goal will depend on many things such as your age and any other medical conditions. A1C target levels can vary by each person’s age and other factors, and your target may be different from someone else’s. The goal for most adults with diabetes is an A1C that is less than 7%. Work with your doctor to set your own individual A1C goal.

How Can I Treat My Type 2 Diabetes Naturally?

Healthy eating is a cornerstone of healthy living — with or without diabetes. If you have diabetes, you need to know how foods affect your blood sugar levels. It’s not only the type of food you eat, but also how much you eat and the combinations of food types you eat. Your doctor may recommend:

  • A regular schedule for meals and healthy snacks
  • Smaller portion sizes
  • More high-fiber foods, such as fruits, nonstarchy vegetables and whole grains
  • Fewer refined grains, starchy vegetables and sweets
  • Modest servings of low-fat dairy, low-fat meats and fish
  • Healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or canola oil
  • Fewer calories

At Holistic Healing Heart Center, many of our patients have had success with managing their weight by following the Ideal Protein protocol, with the support of our nutritionist and wellness staff.

Physical activity is another important part of your type 2 diabetes management plan. When you exercise, your muscles use sugar (glucose) for energy. Regular physical activity also helps your body use insulin more efficiently. Diet and exercise work together to lower your blood sugar level. 

The more strenuous your workout, the longer the effect lasts. But even light activities — such as housework, gardening or being on your feet for extended periods — can improve your blood sugar. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity for people with type 2 diabetes. One way to do this is to try to fit in at least 20 to 25 minutes of activity every day. Also, on 2 or more days a week, include activities that work all major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

It is also important to limit inactivity. Breaking up long bouts of inactivity, such as sitting at the computer, can help control blood sugar levels. Take a few minutes to stand, walk around or do some light activity every 30 minutes.

Herbs and Supplements To Treat Diabetes 2 Naturally

drink in glass mug, cinnamon sticks and ginger root

There are a number of herbs and supplements you can try as part of your natural treatment of type 2 diabetes. Most of them are thought to work by lowering your fasting blood glucose level. With very few side effects, most herbs are safe to take – some patients like them for the taste alone. 

However, as always we caution everyone to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before adding any new herbs or supplements to your diet.

Berberine is an alkaloid found in the barks, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, and/or stems of various plants, such as the barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric. The bright yellow compound, which is a class of isoquinoline alkaloids, is getting lots of buzz for its potential health benefits. It has been long used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat health issues like infections. In Ayurveda, Berberis species have been traditionally used for the treatment of a wide range of infections of the ear, eye, and mouth, for quick healing of wounds, curing hemorrhoids, indigestion and dysentery, or treatment of uterine and vaginal disorders.

Evidence from clinical trials conducted in people with type 2 diabetes suggests that berberine is able to reduce blood sugar to a similar extent as some anti-diabetic drugs. Berberine is available in powder or capsule form and can be purchased from health stores and online.

Chromium is an essential trace element that is used by some people as a supplement. The body needs chromium for normal growth and health. Some evidence suggests that chromium supplements may help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels. Most people get enough chromium from food. Foods that are good sources of chromium include vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, and green beans, whole-grain products, beef and poultry, fruits, including apples and bananas; grape juice, milk and dairy products. For patients who are unable to get enough chromium in their regular diet or who have a need for more chromium, chromium supplements may be necessary.

Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is made naturally in the body and is also found in foods. It is used to break down carbohydrates and make energy. Alpha-lipoic acid can be consumed in foods, such as red meat, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. It is also available in supplement form. Because alpha-lipoic acid seems to work like an antioxidant, it might provide protection to the brain and also be helpful in certain liver diseases. Several studies suggest alpha-lipoic acid helps lower blood sugar levels. Its ability to kill free radicals may help people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, who have pain, burning, itching, tingling, and numbness in arms and legs from nerve damage. 

Cinnamon is a fragrant spice that comes from the bark of a tree. It is a popular ingredient in sweets and baked goods, as well as some savory dishes. This spice may add sweetness to a dish, limiting the need for sugar. It is popular among people with type 2 diabetes for this reason alone, but it may also have other benefits. Consuming ¼ tsp. to 1 tsp. of cinnamon every day has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients with diabetes. Clinical trials clarified that cinnamon also possesses an anti-inflammatory effect, which may act beneficially in diabetes. Based on in vitro and in vivo studies, cinnamon seems to elicit the regulation of glucose metabolism in tissues by insulin-mimetic effect and enzyme activity improvement. Furthermore, cinnamon seems to decrease cholesterol and fatty acid absorption in the gut.

Fenugreek is a seed that may help lower blood sugar levels. It contains fibers and chemicals that help slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and sugar. There is also some evidence that the seed may help delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Research in the past two decades has shown that Fenugreek seeds help to lower blood glucose in patients with diabetes. Its role as an antidiabetic, by reducing fasting blood glucose levels and improved glucose tolerance in human subjects.

You can use fenugreek as an herb in cooking, add it to warm water and drink it, grind the seeds into a powder and consume it, or opt for a fenugreek supplement in capsule form.

Milk Thistle: People have long used milk thistle to treat different ailments, and especially as a tonic for the liver. Silymarin, the extract from milk thistle that has received the most attention from scientists, is a compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These are what may make milk thistle a useful herb for people with diabetes. Silibinin has also demonstrated beneficial effects on several diabetic complications, including diabetic neuropathy, diabetic nephropathy, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, mainly by means of its antioxidant properties.

Ginger is another herb that people have used for thousands of years in traditional medicines. People often use ginger to help treat digestive and inflammatory issues.

In 2015, a review found that ginger may also help treat diabetes. The researchers concluded that ginger lowered blood sugar levels but not blood insulin levels. As a result, they suggest that ginger may reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes. Although many studies suggest that ginger could be useful in diabetes management, you should take precautions when consuming it. You shouldn’t consume more than 4 grams of ginger per day. Although side effects are rare, it’s possible to experience heartburn, diarrhea, and upset stomach if you eat ginger in large amounts.

Aloe vera is a common plant with various uses. Many people are aware of its benefits for the skin, but it may have others, including slowing the progress of type 2 diabetes. A 2015 study suggests that taking aloe vera gel can help people achieve better fasting blood glucose levels, as well as reduce body fat and weight.

While each of these herbs and supplements has potential benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes, the most effective and safe dosage and combination of ingredients can be difficult to figure out. Rather than getting each ingredient in isolation, we recommend consulting with your doctor. A physician such as Dr. Thaik can recommend proprietary products that have these beneficial herbs and supplements in unique blends. 

Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes and More At Holistic Healing Heart Center

Dr. Cynthia Thaik, MD, one of the top integrative medicine practitioners in Los Angeles, is a Harvard-trained, holistic cardiologist who practices with her heart. She helps replace stress, fear, and anxiety in patients by instilling a sense of inner calm and peace. She educates and inspires clients to take proactive steps toward health and healing. Her team has helped thousands of people transform their lives through the ways they think, feel, and act. 

Many patients come to Dr. Thaik’s Holistic Healing Heart Center for support with managing type 2 diabetes, among other conditions. We offer medically-supervised weight loss support, meditation and mindfulness, and other wellness services to help you make the lifestyle changes needed to lower your blood sugar level and manage diabetes. If you are looking for a Los Angeles doctor who uses the whole-person approach to treat type 2 diabetes, we invite you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Thaik. 

About the author

Dr. Cynthia Thaik, M.D., FACC is a Harvard-trained cardiologist serving the greater Los Angeles community at her holistic health center in Burbank and Valencia, CA. Dr. Thaik is the author of Your Vibrant Heart: Restoring Health, Strength, and Spirit from the Body’s Core. To learn more about Dr. Thaik or the Holistic Healing Heart Center, or to schedule an appointment, please contact info@drcynthia.com or call (818) 842-1410.

Resource Links