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Safe and Effective Supplements to Improve Glucose Metabolism and Insulin Sensitivity

Institute For Learning

Category: Health & Wellness


Every cell in our body requires glucose and keeping blood sugar levels balanced is important for overall health. Aside from eating a wholesome diet, adding supplements can also help promote glucose balance.

Chromium Picolinate

Chromium is a mineral that helps to control sugar cravings in part because it supports proper insulin function and may even boost metabolism to help glucose control. The molecular mechanisms of chromium are still not well understood. However, studies propose that chromium supplementation lowers fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1c, and post-prandial glucose and insulin concentrations.1 Chromium is hypothesized to improve insulin sensitivity by enhancing the tyrosine kinase activity of insulin receptors.2 The suggested daily dose ranges from 200-400mcg and is best taken about 20-30 minutes prior to a meal. Caution should be taken in those with impaired renal or liver function.


The polyphenols in cinnamon have been found to directly target insulin resistance by improving insulin sensitivity in pancreatic beta cells to improve glucose transport and glycogen storage.3 The proposed mechanisms of cinnamon are synthesis of glucose transporter 4 (GLUT-4) receptors and modulation of hepatic glucose metabolism through changes in pyruvate kinases to alter the expression of PPAR (?), a receptor that has anti-diabetic effects.4 You can take a cinnamon supplement, but using ground cinnamon powder in your food, smoothies or tea is another option. The suggested dosage is two teaspoons daily, or 1-3g in capsule form, best taken with carbohydrate-containing meals. Cinnamon is possibly unsafe when taken in large amounts for a long period of time or for those with liver conditions.

Gymnema Sylvestre

This herb promotes glucose utilization to lower blood sugar by stimulating insulin secretion.5,6 Furthermore, the gymnemic acids slow down the movement of glucose from the intestines to the bloodstream by attaching to receptors in the intestine to reduce blood sugar levels.7 One study reported that 400mg of Gymnema daily resulted in significant reductions in blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c and glycosylated plasma protein levels.5 Moreover, at the end of the year and a half study, participants were able to reduce their dosage of prescription medications, with five adults coming completely off medication and maintaining stable blood sugar levels with Gymnema alone.8 There is even some evidence that Gymnema can repair and regenerate pancreatic beta cells.9  The recommended dosage is 250-750mg per day with meals. Gymnema may interfere with certain medications, therefore, it is advised to speak with your healthcare professional before supplementing.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

ALA is a powerful antioxidant and enhances the uptake of glucose into cells. Additionally, ALA can inhibit glycosylation, the attachment of sugar to proteins, which obstructs their functions. Studies have also shown that ALA can help reduce the kidney and nerve damage often seen in diabetes.10 One study found that 600mg taken twice daily significantly reduced the need for insulin. After a month of treatment, ALA also reduced the fasting levels of lactate and pyruvate concentrations, directly stimulating pyruvate dehydrogenase activity, and thereby increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose effectiveness, a pathway often impaired in diabetics.11 Doses usually range from 300-1200mg daily on empty stomach. ALA is generally regarded as safe but should be taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider.


Berberine is a plant alkaloid that targets AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a regulator of metabolism.12 AMPK stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces glucose production in the liver, which is often higher in diabetic patients. In one study, participants taking berberine saw a 35% decrease in fasting blood glucose and a 44% decrease in post-prandial glucose.13 Dosage usually is 1000-1500mg daily with or near meal time. Berberine can interact with certain medications and is not recommended during pregnancy.



1. Martin J, Wang ZQ, Zhang XH, Wachtel D, Volaufova J, Matthews DE, Cefalu WT. Chromium picolinate supplementation attenuates body weight gain and increases insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006 Aug;29(8):1826-32.
2. Hua, Yinan et al. “Molecular Mechanisms of Chromium in Alleviating Insulin Resistance.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 23.4 (2012): 313–319.
3. Ranasinghe, Priyanga et al. “Medicinal Properties of ‘true’ Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum): A Systematic Review.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 13 (2013): 275.
4. Medagama, Arjuna B. “The Glycaemic Outcomes of Cinnamon, a Review of the Experimental Evidence and Clinical Trials.” Nutrition Journal 14 (2015): 108.
5. Shanmugasundaram ER, Rajeswari G, Baskaran K, Rajesh Kumar BR, Radha Shanmugasundaram K, Kizar Ahmath B. Use of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract in the control of blood glucose in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990 Oct;30(3):281-94.
6. K. Bone, “Gymnema: a key herb in the management of diabetes,” in Phytotherapy Review and Commentary, National Institute of Herbalists: National Herbalists Association of Australia, 2002.
7. N. P. Sahu, S. B. Mahato, S. K. Sarkar, and G. Poddar, “Triterpenoid saponins from Gymnema sylvestre,” Phytochemistry, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 1181–1185, 1996.
8. K. Baskaran, B. K. Ahamath, K. R. Shanmugasundaram, and E. R. B. Shanmugasundaram, “Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 295–305, 1990. 
9. K. Bone, “Gymnema: a key herb in the management of diabetes,” in Phytotherapy Review and Commentary, National Institute of Herbalists: National Herbalists Association of Australia, 2002. 
10. Ibrahimpasic K. Alpha lipoic acid and glycaemic control in diabetic neuropathies at type 2 diabetes treatment. Med Arch. 2013;67(1):7-9. 
11. Konrad T, Vicini P, Kusterer K, Höflich A, Assadkhani A, Böhles HJ, Sewell A, Tritschler HJ, Cobelli C, Usadel KH. alpha-Lipoic acid treatment decreases serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and improves glucose effectiveness in lean and obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 1999 Feb;22(2):280-7. 
12. Chang W, Zhang M, Li J, Meng Z, Wei S, Du H, Chen L, Hatch GM. Berberine improves insulin resistance in cardiomyocytes via activation of 5'-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. Metabolism. 2013 Aug;62(8):1159-67.
13. Yin, Jun, Huili Xing, and Jianping Ye. “Efficacy of Berberine in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental 57.5 (2008): 712–717.




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