According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 88 million Americans already have prediabetes, and nearly 85% of them may not even know it[*].
The issue with blood glucose control is only growing in the United States, and the use of medications to combat this issue is on the rise. If you’re like most people in the health and wellness world, you likely don’t want to end up on medication unless you absolutely need it.
So what can you do to help balance blood sugar without medication?
When people refer to your blood sugar, they’re talking about is your blood glucose — the energy molecules that come from the breakdown of carbohydrates and the transformation of some amino acids. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for most people (unless you’re following a ketogenic diet).
Glucose is regulated by the hormones insulin and glucagon. After you eat a meal containing carbohydrates, insulin comes in to shuttle the blood glucose into your cells so it can be used as fuel. When blood glucose is low, the hormone glucagon comes in to break down stored glucose (called glycogen) and release it into your bloodstream[*].
Therefore, your blood sugar levels have a significant impact on the activity of both insulin and glucagon.
Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar becomes chronically too high. This is typically due to one of two reasons: Your body isn’t making enough insulin or doesn’t recognize insulin signals (known as insulin resistance)[*].
The most common way to test your blood sugar levels is through a finger prick blood test. You can find a blood glucose meter online, and they’re often combined with blood ketone testing meters.
The meter will come with a small lancet that you use to prick your finger, which produces a small amount of blood. You can then measure the amount of sugar in your blood droplet by placing it on a blood glucose measuring strip and then inserting the strip into your meter.
Each meter will have its own set of instructions, but generally, it will go something like this:
- Step 1. Wash your hands well and dry them completely.
- Step 2. Insert your test strip into your blood glucose meter.
- Step 3. Use the lancet provided to prick your fingertip and produce a small droplet of blood.
- Step 4. Allow the blood to come into contact with the end of your test strip that’s sticking out of the meter (the test strip will readily absorb the blood).
- Step 5. After a few seconds, your blood sugar level will appear on the screen of your meter.
- Step 6. Safely discard the lancet and your test strip.
With a blood glucose monitor, you’ll be measuring blood glucose in millimoles per liter (mmol/L). To do a fasting blood sugar test, simply fast overnight and then measure your blood sugar upon waking. Results can be read as follows[*]:
- 5.6 mmol/L is considered normal
- 5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L is considered pre-diabetic
- 7.0 mmol/L or higher is considered diabetic
Please take into account that these numbers may give you information, but to be diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes must consult your healthcare practitioner and have formal testing done with them.
Also, note that these numbers represent fasting blood glucose. If you check your blood glucose after you’ve eaten, the numbers will likely be much higher.
There are several lifestyle, health, and dietary factors that can put you at risk for diabetes; some of these risk factors include[*]:
- Weight gain: An increase in fatty tissue can increase your bodies resistance to insulin
- Inactivity: Physical activity not only helps you control your weight, but it uses up excess blood sugar as well.
- Family history: The risk of diabetes increases when there is a predisposition in the family.
- Race: The research does not point to a clear reason, but certain races are at higher risk for diabetes such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians.
- Age: In general, the risk for diabetes increases with age, perhaps due to a drop in muscle mass and increase an in fat mass.
- Gestational diabetes: If you developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your risk for diabetes also increases.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): Women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
- Abnormal Blood Lipids: Low levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels are triglycerides are both associated with an increased risk for diabetes.
Diabetes management often includes the use of medications that can help to lower blood sugar levels. However, diabetes medications aren’t always indicated when blood sugar is high, not to mention the fact they often come with unwanted side effects.
Below are seven ways to naturally lower your blood sugar if it’s already high, and potentially set you up for a lower risk of diabetes in the future.
If you’re concerned about your blood glucose levels, there are plenty of ways to lower your blood glucose before it becomes an issue naturally. These practices will also benefit you if you already have prediabetes or diabetes.
1. Consume the Right Carbs
Since carbohydrates are your primary source of glucose, getting smart about which carbs you consume should be your first step in lowering your blood sugar. Carbohydrates can be classified into two categories: simple and complex.
Complex carbs include foods like whole grains, lentils, and vegetables, while simple carbs include sugar and syrups. As you’ve probably already surmised — simple carbs are the biggest culprits when it comes to blood sugar irregularities.
The reason for this is simple (no pun intended). Complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of glucose and are typically found in foods high in fiber, making them harder to break down into smaller glucose units. Simple carbs, on the other hand, often come without added fiber and are already broken down into smaller units making them more readily available to be absorbed into your bloodstream[*].
When you eat complex carbs, there are a number of enzymatic processes that have to take place before your body can absorb the final product — glucose. When you eat a simple carb, however, it takes far less enzymatic work to break it down, and therefore, a flood of glucose can enter your bloodstream all at once — causing high blood sugar levels (also known as hyperglycemia)[*].
Some examples of complex carbs include[*]:
- Whole grains
Some examples of simple carbs include[*]:
- Soft drinks
- Baked goods (cakes, cookies, brownies)
- Ice cream
2. Consume Little or No Carbs
While managing the type of carbs you consume can significantly impact your blood sugar, if you want to take it a step further, you can consume little to no carbs and switch your metabolic preference over to ketones.
When you deprive your body of carbohydrates, your metabolic activity naturally switches over to prefer ketones for fuel instead of carbohydrates. The result is a two-fold benefit for blood sugar:
- You’re no longer consuming carbs; therefore, the whole issue with blood sugar is pretty much null and void.
- Research shows that when your body runs on ketones, a side effect is an increased sensitivity to the hormone insulin and, therefore, greater glucose tolerance[*].
3. Increase Dietary Fiber Intake
Unlike most forms of carbohydrate, fiber won’t cause issues with your blood sugar. The reason for this is because most forms of fiber aren’t actually absorbed by the cells in your intestinal tract — and therefore never reach your bloodstream[*].
Soluble fiber, in particular, attracts water and digestive fluids and turns into a gel-like substance which slows down the digestive process[*].
Therefore, increasing your fiber intake will slow down the absorption of nutrients, which in turn creates a more steady release of glucose into your bloodstream[*].
Some low carbohydrate sources of soluble fiber include fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
4. Watch Calories
Foods that are high in simple sugars are famously easy to overeat. Think of chips, candy, cookies, white bread, and so on. When you start with these foods, it can often be a challenge to put them down[*].
That’s where having some awareness around your caloric intake can make a huge difference. Sure, 100 calories worth of these foods isn’t going to throw your blood sugar into a chaotic rollercoaster. However, if you go into autopilot and stop paying attention, 100 calories can quickly turn into 500 or more. This is where that glucose starts to add up, and you may find your blood sugar surging[*].
5. Get Better Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for the maintenance and recovery of both your body and mind. While you sleep, your body gets to do some cleanup and maintenance activities that leave you refreshed for the next day. Your hormones, metabolic functions, nervous system, and organs all need the downtime that sleep provides in order to function optimally for you[*].
Research shows that when you deprive your body of sleep, it can directly impact your insulin sensitivity and may even lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although the exact mechanism for this is not understood, some theories include the hormonal balance changes that come with reduced sleep and imbalances in your circadian rhythm, which throw off your nutrient utilization[*].
What’s more, poor sleep habits are associated with increased appetite, poor dietary choices (like high sugar foods), and altered glucose metabolism — all of which can set you up for blood sugar chaos[*].
6. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is a secret weapon for controlling blood sugar. While it’s well understood that exercise can enhance your overall health, the impact of physical activity on blood sugar offers a targeted benefit due to something called GLUT-4 transporters.
GLUT-4 transporters live on your cell membranes and are the “doors” that let glucose into your cells be used as fuel. As it happens, exercise is one of the most efficient ways to increase the expression of GLUT-4 transporters on your cell membranes[*].
When you work out and start to exert more energy, your body naturally looks for ways to increase the amount of fuel entering your cells. The increased expression of GLUT-4 (particularly on skeletal muscle) allows your cells to take up more glucose, moving this fuel source out of your blood and into your tissues where it can further fuel your workout[*].
7. Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar
In addition to lifestyle and dietary changes, there are some targeted supplements that can help you keep your blood sugar under control. A word of caution: If you are already taking blood sugar-regulating medication, don’t try any supplements without first consulting your health care practitioner.
Bitter melon is a guard with a distinct bitter flavor — leading many consumers to opt for the supplement version. Researchers believe that bitter melon may enhance the expression of specific glucose regulating receptors on your cells’ membranes, allowing for more efficient uptake of glucose out of your blood and into your tissues[*].
Cinnamon is a warming herb that you can readily add to smoothies and baked goods, but can also be taken as a supplement for a more targeted blood sugar-regulating effect. The proposed activity of cinnamon in blood sugar regulation comes from its ability to sensitize your cells to insulin. This could be especially helpful for people with insulin resistance[*].
Berberine is a compound that’s found in plants like Oregon grape, goldenseal, and bayberry. This bitter-tasting compound has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar in diabetics and may enhance the blood-sugar regulating effects of certain medications[*].
It works by improving your cell’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing for more glucose to be taken up by your cells[*].
Gymnema is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for the management of sugar cravings and an imbalance in blood sugar. It works by reducing the absorption of sugar into your blood and may enhance the production of insulin by your pancreas[*].
Chromium is a mineral that’s required in trace amounts by your body. Its primary activity in blood sugar regulation is enhancing the activity of insulin. By increasing insulin activity, chromium helps transport glucose out of your bloodstream into your cells, where it can be used for energy[*].
There are plenty of natural dietary and lifestyle changes that can support blood sugar control. Regular exercise, following a low-carb diet, and weight loss will all assist in reducing blood sugar spikes and enhance your body’s ability to manage blood glucose.
These practices will not only produce short term benefits but also reduce your risk for other chronic conditions like heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
One of the most effective ways to reduce blood sugar, however, is limiting your carbohydrate intake. This not only eliminates the culprit of high blood glucose (sugar), but research shows that it may also help your cells become more sensitive to insulin over time.
If you’re already diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes and want to try natural ways to achieve normal blood sugar levels, be sure to run everything by your doctor or dietitian. Having proper guidance is crucial, especially if you’re already taking medication.