Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects the blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. Treatments include lifestyle strategies and sometimes medication, but some complementary therapies, such as herbs and supplements, may help.

In diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin, or it produces insulin that it does not use effectively.

Herbs and supplements cannot cure diabetes and or be a standalone treatment. But some, in combination with conventional treatment, may provide relief from diabetes symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

In this article, learn about seven herbs and supplements that may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

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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.

One review, published in 2013, looked at the use of aloe vera to treat symptoms of diabetes in rats. The findings suggested that aloe vera might help protect and repair the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The researchers believed that this might be due to aloe’s antioxidant effects.

A 2016 study showed that aloe vera may help lower levels of both fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C. The A1C test is one test that helps doctors diagnose and monitor diabetes.

The authors of a 2020 review found other evidence to support the earlier findings and also concluded that aloe vera may help:

  • increase insulin levels
  • boost the health and number of related cells in the pancreas called islets
  • protect against diabetic kidney disease, depression, and anxiety by reducing oxidative stress
  • boost eye health, as seen in one rodent study

These results appear promising. But ensuring that aloe vera is safe and effective for people with diabetes will require further research.

People who use aloe vera may add juiced pulp to a drink such as a smoothie or take it as a supplement in capsules. People should not ingest aloe vera skin care products.

Learn about the other possible health benefits of aloe vera juice.

Anyone interested in using aloe vera products to help treat diabetes should speak with a healthcare professional, who may need to adjust current medications accordingly.

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.

A 2010 review found evidence from studies in humans that cinnamon may improve levels of:

  • glucose
  • insulin and insulin sensitivity
  • lipids, or fats, in the blood
  • antioxidants
  • blood pressure
  • lean body mass
  • digestion

In another review, published in 2013, researchers concluded that taking a cinnamon supplement might lead to:

  • lower fasting blood glucose levels
  • less total cholesterol and “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • higher levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • a reduction in triglycerides, or fat, in the blood
  • increased insulin sensitivity

It did not appear to have a significant impact on hemoglobin A1C. But while hemoglobin A1C is one marker that doctors look at when monitoring diabetes, the levels of lipids, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity are also important.

In both investigations, the researchers noted that the results may depend on:

  • the type of cinnamon, as different types contain different amounts of the active ingredient
  • the dosage of the supplement
  • individual responses
  • any other current medications

In addition, a 2019 review of 16 studies found evidence that cinnamon could help reduce fasting blood glucose and insulin resistance in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

It is important to note that, overall, most of the relevant studies did not involve human participants. There is a lack of evidence about how cinnamon supplements might affect people, and before scientists can confirm the effects of cinnamon as a treatment, they need to carry out more research.

People might use cinnamon:

  • in baked goods
  • in teas
  • as a supplement

Anyone who is thinking of using cinnamon supplements should speak with a healthcare professional first.

Momordica charantia, or bitter melon, is a medicinal fruit. People cook it and enjoy it in many dishes. And practitioners of traditional Chinese and Indian medicines have used bitter melon for centuries. More recently, researchers have been looking into its properties.

There is some evidence that bitter melon may help manage diabetes. In a 2020 study, 90 participants received either bitter melon extract or a placebo. Those who took the extract had lower fasting blood glucose levels after 12 weeks.

In addition, an earlier review observed that people have used many parts of the plant to help treat diabetes.

Taking bitter melon in the following forms may lead to reduced blood sugar levels in some people:

  • seeds
  • blended vegetable pulp
  • juice
  • supplements

Bitter melon can be an acquired taste, and taking supplements may make it more palatable.

Please note that there is not enough evidence to support using bitter melon instead of insulin or other medications for diabetes. However, it may help people rely less on those medications.

Learn more about the possible effects of bitter melon on blood sugar levels.

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.

Many results of investigations into the effects of silymarin have been promising, but not promising enough for experts to recommend the herb or its extract alone for diabetes care, according to one review published in 2016.

The authors of research from 2018 found modest evidence that milk thistle may help lower glucose levels in people with diabetes. They also warn that, while people generally tolerate the herb well, milk thistle may lead to nausea, diarrhea, and bloating.

As with any supplement, it is best to speak to a doctor before trying it.

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. Findings of a 3-year investigation published in 2015 noted that people with prediabetes were less likely to receive a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes while taking powdered fenugreek seed.

The study involved 66 people with diabetes who took 5 grams of the seed preparation twice a day before meals and 74 healthy participants who did not take it.

The researchers concluded that taking the seed preparation led to a reduction in blood sugar resulting from increased insulin levels. They also found that the preparation led to reduced cholesterol levels.

A person 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.
  • Opt for a fenugreek supplement in capsule form.

Gymnema sylvestre is an herb that comes from India. Its name means “sugar destroyer.”

A 2013 review found that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who took gymnema showed signs of improvement.

In people with type 1 diabetes who took the leaf extract for 18 months, fasting blood sugar levels fell significantly, compared with a group who received only insulin.

Other tests found that people with type 2 diabetes responded well to both the leaf and its extract over various periods. Some people had lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels.

Using either the ground leaf or leaf extract may be beneficial. But speak with a healthcare professional beforehand.

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 it 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.

However, the way that ginger accomplished this was unclear, and the team called for more research to confirm the findings.

People can take ginger:

  • by adding it powdered or fresh and thinly sliced to raw or cooked dishes
  • brewed into tea
  • as a supplement in capsule form
  • by drinking it in ginger ale

Herbs and supplements may help with diabetes, but there are some considerations to bear in mind.

Always work with a healthcare professional before taking any new herb or supplement. They may suggest starting with a lower dosage and gradually increasing it until there are noticeable, satisfactory effects.

Some herbs can interact with other medications that do the same job, such as blood thinners and high blood pressure medications. It is essential to be aware of any interactions before trying a new supplement.

It is also crucial to obtain herbs and supplements from high-quality sources.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor herbs and supplements, so different products may contain different herbs and fillers. Also, packaging may recommend potentially harmful dosages, and products may be contaminated, for example, with pesticides.

In addition, herbs and supplements are a complementary treatment option and should not replace medications.

Discover more resources for living with type 2 diabetes by downloading the free T2D Healthline app. It provides access to expert content on type 2 diabetes, as well as peer support through one-on-one conversations and live group discussions. Download the app for iPhone or Android.