Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
What it is: The body makes small amounts of ALA—a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body's blood and tissues. Other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are limited to either one or the other.

How it works: Although people with type 2 diabetes produce enough insulin, which is crucial for blood sugar absorption, their cells reject the hormone, causing a spike in blood sugar that can generate free radicals and cause nerve damage—a problem that afflicts about half of people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Supplementing with 600 mg of ALA protects against free radicals, eases pain and numbness associated with nerve damage, and lowers blood sugar levels by helping cells recognize and respond to insulin (Diabetes Care, 2006, vol. 29, no. 11; Hormones, 2006, vol. 5, no. 4).

Side effects: Occasionally ALA causes mild stomach upset or skin rashes. And because it lowers blood sugar levels, consult a doctor about adjusting diabetes medications, if necessary, to guard against developing too-low blood sugar.

Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre)
What it is: The leaves of this plant have been used in India to treat high blood sugar for more than 2,000 years.

How it works: Gymnema lowers blood sugar levels and increases insulin secretion from the pancreas (Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 2005, vol. 18, no. 1).To better control blood sugar, take 400-800 mg of a gymnema supplement labeled water-soluble acidic fraction.

Side effects: As with ALA, work with your doctor to monitor diabetes medications while taking this herb.

Chromium
What it is: An essential trace mineral, chromium performs important roles in the body, such as maintaining normal blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol.

How it works: Chromium deficiency impairs the blood sugar-insulin relationship, while chromium supplementation improves insulin response.

When 34 type 2 diabetics took 30 mcg of chromium picolinate daily for two months, their insulin resistance decreased significantly (Folia Medica, 2005, vol. 47, nos. 3-4). In addition, supplementing with chromium picolinate lowers blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels and reduces reliance on blood sugar-lowering medications, according to a review of 15 studies (Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics, 2006, vol. 8, no. 6). Take 50-200 mcg of chromium daily to help manage diabetes.

Side effects: Work with your doctor to ensure that blood sugar levels don't dip too low.


Oregon-based Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, contributes regularly to Delicious Living.