Industry insiders weigh in on the latest innovations and
superstar ingredients proven to aid in balancing blood sugar and optimizing health.
There’s a huge untapped market for a helping hand in keeping blood sugar levels balanced—and natural health retailers are in a sweet spot to educate consumers and capitalize on the soaring demand. In fact, Straits Research reports that the global diabetes supplements market size is expected to grow from $13.21 billion in 2021 to $31.42 by 2030—that’s a CAGR of 10.3% (1).
Driving this growth is an alarming rise in cases of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. and globally. Case in point: The CDC reports that 37 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, with millions more being diagnosed each year. Another 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes (2).
“What is really scary about prediabetes is that it puts you at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and more than 80% people don’t even know that they have it,” cautions Rob Brewster, President of Ingredients by Nature. “But while type 2 diabetes is a serious condition, for most people it can be prevented at the prediabetic level.”
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels plays a critical role in optimizing health in all people—not just those battling insulin resistance, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes.
“Too much sugar or carbohydrates with a high glycemic value invokes an inflammatory response similar to what the immune system does in response to an allergen,” explains Steve Holtby, President & CEO, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. “It places major demands on the digestive system, interfering with the absorption of crucial vitamins and minerals. It also suppresses the immune system, wreaks havoc on the metabolism, and depletes valuable neurotransmitters. The energy rush and insulin spike that you get from sugar creates an imbalanced body chemistry that leads to weight gain, insulin resistance, and loss of appetite control.”
If high blood sugar is left unchecked, it can cause a range of serious health complications.
These include nerve damage and neuropathy, eye damage, heart attacks and stroke, kidney disease, and sexual dysfunction.
“One of the reasons that diabetes can be such a difficult and devastating disease is the fact that all body systems are affected,” explain Niki Wolfe, Director of Education and Social Wellness, and Shelby Smith, Education Coordinator, LifeSeasons. “If your cells cannot absorb sugar and your blood sugar is too high, your circulatory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, endocrinal, digestive, and nervous systems can all be put at risk. Keeping glucose levels in the body in a healthy range can improve your mood, energy levels, cognition, and overall health.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of study-backed supplements to help manage blood sugar more effectively. “The sooner consumers begin to proactively address blood sugar levels, the less likely they are to develop deeper health issues that are difficult, or even impossible to reverse,” says Sébastien Bornet, VP Global Sales & Marketing at Horphag Research. In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, “nutrition plays an important role in complementing blood sugar maintenance. Supplements and nutraceuticals can help bridge the gaps in our diet.”
Blood-Sugar Balancing Ingredients
“Nutritional supplements can be utilized to help people with diabetes or significantly reduce the risk for developing diabetes,” notes Holtby. He explains that supplements are especially vital for those with type 2 diabetes. “Diabetics have higher needs for virtually all nutrients, especially vitamins C, E, and B complex, magnesium, and chromium. A high potency multivitamin and mineral product would be recommended.” Other ingredients that may be beneficial in managing or lowering blood sugar levels under the direction of a healthcare practitioner include:
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
“This compound plays key roles in our health, as an antioxidant, as well as a cofactor for a number of vital enzymes responsible for metabolism of glucose, and fatty acids to cellular energy,” says Holtby. “ALA also helps regulate blood sugar, and prevents diabetic retinopathy, and reduces symptoms of neuropathy. Studies in Europe showed that taking 600mg twice a day improved the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.”
“Chromium helps our body to use sugar properly, thus contributing to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. It plays an important role in regulating metabolism as it is needed for the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins,” says nutritionist Slawek Gromadzki, with HealthAid America.
It can also help to improve insulin sensitivity, adds Holtby. “Chromium is widely researched. Nine out of 15 randomized controlled trials investigating chromium’s ability to enhance insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar control in diabetics showed significant benefit.” SGTI offers a 200 mcg chromium picolinate soft gel.
Banaba or Crepe Myrtle
Leaves of this tropical plant, sold as an extract under the name GlucoHelp, contain significant amounts of corosolic acid, which has been shown to possess anti-diabetic properties, notes Holtby. “Corosolic acid also contains significant amounts of tannins that were identified and shown to act as activators of glucose transport in fat cells. In addition, corosolic acid possesses strong antioxidant activity to scavenge free radicals and to prevent cell membrane lipid peroxidation. It helps maintain low blood pressure and normal kidney function, by controlling blood sugar, and thus preventing damage to blood vessels and kidneys.”
Reducing the glycemic profile of foods plays an important role in keeping blood sugar in check, says Anke Sentko, Vice President Regulatory Affairs & Nutrition Communication, BENEO. One alternative sweetener that can help: “Palatinose, which is sourced from the sugar beet, is unique in its ability to deliver a lower rise in blood glucose, while delivering full carbohydrate energy. Its slow uptake results in a low and balanced blood glucose response, making it an ideal ingredient to help support blood sugar management.”
“At this point, given the modern research, any supplement that wants to support healthy blood sugar should contain berberine,” maintains Brian Keenan ND, LAc, Education Manager, Ayush Herbs Inc. “This is a single molecule in a larger group of molecules called alkaloids. It is believed to inhibit our body’s ability to make sugar. What’s excellent about this strategy is that it is remarkably safe. Our body won’t allow berberine to suppress blood sugar generation to such an extent that serious and life-threatening hypoglycemia can occur. Moreover, berberine also works to support a healthy liver and oftentimes in type 2 diabetes, liver dysfunction is common. So it’s a true two-for-one.”
Bilberry extract (such as the branded Mirtoselect) has been traditionally used to support eye health and visual acuity but this anthocyanin-rich compound also has anti-diabetic properties, note Wolfe and Smith. “Major studies of Mirtoselect show significant improvement in the realms of vascular health (healthy legs) and ophthalmology (eye protection at the retina level), and smaller trials show promise in memory improvement, cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.”
“Citrus bioflavonoids can provide a holistic profile of benefits that not only help with blood sugar management, but can address a variety of other health concerns that arise from unhealthy blood glucose levels, including insulin resistance, oxidative stress and the inflammatory response,” says Brewster. He notes that in one recent clinical study, subjects who consumed the company’s proprietary lemon flavonoid blend Eriomin showed drops in blood glucose levels via improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammatory cytokine levels, and increased antioxidant capacity, among other relevant biomarkers. What’s more, an average of 24% of subjects were able to return to normal fasting glucose levels and showed a successful increase in glucose tolerance.
“This herb contains several active ingredients including charantin, vicine, and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p that has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-regulating effect,” notes Gromadzki. “In addition, it contains lectin, which is thought to be a key factor behind the blood-glucose regulating effect. A report published in the March 2008 issue of Chemistry and Biology found that bitter melon improved glucose tolerance and increased cellular uptake of glucose.”
“A number of studies have confirmed fenugreek has a hypoglycemic effect,” says Holtby. “The herb’s high fiber content forms a gel in the stomach, which slows gastric emptying and delays glucose absorption.”
French Maritime Pine Bark
Branded as Pycnogenol, this supplement has anti-inflammatory effects that have been shown to reduce metabolic syndrome factors, including waistline obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, notes Bornet. “Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract is backed by a body of research showing its benefits for normalizing fasting blood glucose levels by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates to lower the glucose load in the bloodstream.”
“Gymnema is an herb that has been popular for supporting those with diabetes for millennia,” notes Keenan. “There is some data that supports it may both improve your body’s sensitivity to its own insulin, and may also promote secretion of insulin, though this is debated. Either way, its utility in weight loss and blood sugar management makes it at the top of the list for anyone hoping for blood sugar relief.” Ayush’s Biogynema combines the power of this Ayurvedic herb with berberine.
Optipure also offers a standardized extract of gymnema, called GSX-24, that was shown in clinical trials to improve glycemic control and reduce some diabetics’ insulin requirements.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
This essential nutrient helps increase levels of the enzyme transketolase. “In simple terms, transketolase escorts excess sugar from our cells before it can harm tissues and organs,” explains Dan Murray, VP of Business Development, Xsto Solutions. BenfoPure brand Benfotiamine is a fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 (thiamine) that the company says is more bioavailable in the body.
“Studies show that people with a higher dietary intake of vitamin K2 are significantly less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Vitamin K2 reduces progression of insulin resistance, improves insulin sensitivity, and activates osteocalcin, a protein known to regulate glucose homeostasis. Vitamin K2-7 plays a role in improving the body’s oxygen uptake. This also helps improve the body’s ability to fight diabetes,” explains Jeff Lind, National Director of B2B Sales, Novozymes One Health. He says Novozymes’ standardized version of vitamin K2, MenaquinGold, has also been shown to be an effective biofactor in addressing a number of complications in those with diabetes, including cardiovascular events, peripheral neuropathy, muscle cramps, and low energy levels.
“Keeping glucose levels in a healthy range can improve mood, energy levels, cognition, and overall health.”