Lifestyle change has always been the cornerstone treatment for people with type 2 diabetes. Beyond that, natural approaches are rarely discussed. Mark Stngler, NMD, author of several books on alternative health, recommends a number of plant-based remedies for those with diabetes, some of which date back hundreds, even thousands, of years...

According to Dr. Stengler, type 2 diabetes absolutely can be prevented and, in certain cases, even reversed with diet, exercise and appropriate dietary supplements. The following is some of his own "best practice" advice for prevention, maintenance and symptom management of this lifestyle-related disease.

To prevent diabetes...

Curb sugar cravings with gymnema sylvestre. A staple of Ayurvedic medicine, this herb helps curb cravings for sugary foods that throw your blood glucose levels off balance. Scientists speculate that it works by positively influencing insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Dr. Stengler believes gymnema sylvestre works best when used in combination with other glucose-balancing herbs, such as bitter melon and fenugreek. Ask your doctor for advice on the best combination and dosage for you.

Chromium can normalize sugar levels. Your body requires adequate levels of chromium to properly control blood glucose levels. This essential trace mineral aids in the uptake of blood sugar into the body's cells, where it can be used to generate energy more efficiently. It's also helpful in reducing sweet cravings.

Dr. Stengler advises up to 1,000 micrograms of chromium a day (under your physician's supervision). He adds that this is a good mineral to take with gymnema.

Regulate blood sugar with fiber and fiber supplements. Soluble fiber helps prevent or control prediabetes and diabetes by slowing the rate at which intestines release glucose into the bloodstream, thus modulating fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Rich sources of soluble fiber include plant foods, such as legumes, oat bran, rye, barley, broccoli, carrots, artichokes, peas, prunes, berries and bananas. In a small study in Taiwan, scientists found that supplementation with glucomannan (a soluble dietary fiber made from konjac flour) lowered elevated levels of blood lipids, cholesterol and glucose in people with diabetes.

Most Americans eat too much junk food and too little fiber. For his patients who fall into that category, Dr. Stengler typically prescribes one glucomannan capsule 30 minutes before lunch and dinner, and another before bedtime with a large glass of water.

Managing symptoms and minimizing complications...

Boost antioxidant levels with alphalipoic acid. This powerful antioxidant kills free radicals that damage cells and cause pain, inflammation, burning, tingling and numbness in people who have peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) caused by diabetes. Studies also suggest that alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) enables the body to utilize glucose more efficiently.

Dr. Stengler says to take alpha-lipoic acid daily under a physician's supervision.

Decrease blood glucose levels with chamomile tea. Drinking chamomile tea, a rich source of antioxidants, may help prevent diabetes complications, such as blindness, nerve damage and kidney problems, according to recent research by UK and Japanese scientists.

Drink chamomile tea along with antioxidant-rich black, white and green teas, says Dr. Stengler.

Take omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation. These healthy fats improve the body's ability to respond to insulin, reduce inflammation, lower blood lipids and prevent excessive blood clotting. Good dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish, such as salmon or cod (eat two or three times a week), olive or canola oil, flaxseed and English walnuts.

Dr. Stengler's advice: Unless you know you are getting sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, it's good to take a daily fish oil supplement that contains about 1,000 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and about 500 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Caution: Because many dietary supplements lower blood sugar, and fish oil supplements may alter the way anticoagulant therapy functions, it is critical to work closely with your doctor before and while taking any of the above supplements. He/she will prescribe the right doses for you and also may suggest that you alter other medications accordingly.

Don't Neglect the ABCS of Diabetes Self-Care

When addressing a difficult disease such as diabetes, all the nutrients and vitamins in the world will do no good if you do not also follow the basics of diabetes self-care: Maintain a healthy weight... get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week... follow a diet that emphasizes lean proteins and healthy fats and limits simple carbohydrates... monitor blood glucose levels... and take diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol medicine as prescribed by your physician. Dr. Stengler adds that even as simple a measure as taking a 10-minute walk after each meal can keep blood sugar under control. Start today.

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