Risk factors for diabetes include high blood pressure, being overweight and experiencing high stress levels as well as a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. In the UK 13.6 million people are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
It can be a daunting diagnosis, but lifestyle and diet changes are extremely effective in turning this condition around. Herbs offer an additional approach to restore the metabolism effectively and support any changes you make so that you can step smoothly into a new routine and a more vibrant place of wellbeing.
The Benefits of Bitters
Bitter taste receptors – the structures that allow us to perceive the ‘bitter’ taste became the focus of interest and research recently. It was discovered that they were present not only in the mouth, but also throughout the body; they are found in the digestive system and even in the heart and lungs. Though the precise action of some of these receptors is still unclear, those found in the digestive tract seem to be linked to the regulation of appetite and metabolism.
Studies have found that repeated stimulation of the bitter taste receptors results in weight loss, enhanced glucose tolerance and improved insulin sensitivity as well as reduced markers for inflammation.1 In the Herbal Clinic we use a number of herbs containing a substance called ‘berberine’ which has a strong action on the bitter receptors throughout the digestive system, toning the digestive organs, improving their function and restoring metabolic function.
In Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional Indian medicine system), bitter flavoured foods are considered beneficial for those who are prone to weight gain – sweet and salty foods should be limited by these individuals. Many fruits and vegetables today are selectively bred to reduce the bitter flavours as we find these unappealing; thus, bitter tastes are becoming increasingly limited in our diets. However, a liking for bitter tastes can be developed and, over time, enjoyed. Start increasing the bitter foods in your diet; try using leafy greens and Brussels sprouts, chicory and dandelion greens, grapefruit and green tea. If you enjoy chocolate eat a small quantity of a quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa) rather than the higher sugar milk chocolate.
NOTE: Research has found that artificial sweeteners alter the gut micro-biome in a way that encourages glucose intolerance. Sugar free drinks are not the answer to a sweet tooth for those with insulin resistance.
Primary Protocols for Prediabetes (and Diabetes)
Diet – Focus on including plenty of vegetables, some fruits and unprocessed wholefoods. Restrict those foods that cause inflammation in the body (sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed food).
Intermittent fasting – Fasting allows a reprogramming of the metabolism as well as reducing inflammation in the body. Fasting days give your body the opportunity to rest and regenerate whilst you eat easily digestible foods such as steamed vegetables, miso soup, broth and salads.
Glucose Regulating Herbs to Use at Home
Cinnamon. A warming tonic herb which can help bring clarity to the mind, improve resistance to stress and improve concentration and memory. It has many benefits in the digestive system and is a probiotic, helping to establish a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. It is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, helps to lower cholesterol levels in the body, reduces sugar cravings and has been found reduce plasma glucose levels.2 To make the most of cinnamon medicinally, buy some good quality quills (powders lose their potency quickly) of Cinnamomum zeylanicumto use in the tea recipe below.
Coriander seed (and leaf). Another herb with great benefits for the digestive system, both the seed and leaf of coriander have been found to significantly reduce blood glucose levels. You can incorporate the leaf into your daily mealtimes, it makes a great addition to salads, curries and soups (best added at the end of cooking to retain its freshness). To use the seed regularly see the recipe below.
Turmeric root. Well known for its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric also aids the digestion and metabolism, lowering blood sugar levels and cholesterol. You can use either the fresh root or a good quality powdered root in this recipe.
Metabolism Boosting Tea
- 2 broken quills cinnamon (around 2-3 inch quills)
- 3 tablespoons coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (or 1 inch fresh chopped root)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon RAW honey
NOTE – A small amount of raw honey can be beneficial, encouraging the uptake of the herbs. The heat treatment of standard honey, or heating raw honey has undesirable effects.
Place the dry ingredients in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and bring to the boil with the lid on. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to stand for a further 10 minutes. Strain then add the honey and drink throughout the day.
1. Bernard P Kok et al. Intestinal bitter taste receptor activation alters hormone secretion and imparts metabolic benefits. Mol Metab. 2018 Oct;16:76-87 2. Robert W Allen et al. Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Fam Med. Sep-Oct 2013;11(5):452-9.