Insulin Use and Support Therapies

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

In patients diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) is now playing a more important role as an adjunct therapy to help control the insulin metabolism. In Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, many patients have apparent significant destruction of the pancreatic beta cells, requiring injection of insulin to maintain glucose control, but the amount of insulin needed may depend on the ability of the body to control the glucose metabolism, and diet, exercise, nutrient supplementation, and herbal medicine, as well as acupuncture, may help the body's glucose control and insulin metabolism, to decrease the need for insulin dosage in injection, thereby decreasing long-term risks and side effects. In patients without a need for insulin injection, in Type 2 Diabetes, the need for an improved glucose control, and aids to normal insulin metabolism are essential to health maintenance, and a more proactive and informed approach by the patient will insure a better glucose control and healthier outcome. Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) may be an important addition to the overall treatment protocol, and utilization of the knowledgeable Licensed Acupuncturist and herbalist may be an important choice for these patients. CIM/TCM may be utilized in short courses of therapy for either type of diabetes, integrated with standard care, to insure a better outcome and avoidance of the serious health consequences seen in almost all cases of diabetes eventually.

If you are an insulin-dependent diabetic you need to understand that there are herbs and treatments, such as acupuncture, as well as improved dietary and lifestyle regimens, that may improve your body's use of insulin, and so decrease you dosage needs. The choice is not between taking insulin and taking herbs, or utilizing acupuncture versus taking insulin, but about integrating these medical treatments intelligently into your protocol. The practice of TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, is a Complementary and Integrative Medicine that helps the patient and their medical doctor improve the efficacy of their treatments. By doing this, you do not introduce risk into the treatment protocol, you decrease risk, by reducing harm from pharmaceutical side effects, and by helping your body to handle your diabetes with a stronger and healthier body. The CIM/TCM physician is highly trained in dietary and lifestyle effects on health, nutrient and herbal medicine, and provides an array of direct treatment protocols that improve and restore healthy homeostasis. Chronic insulin use comes with an array of side effects, including obesity and lowered metabolic rate. Decreasing the amount of insulin that you need is an option. As an example of the research into foods and herbs that improve insulin usage in the body, a small set of examples below is provided. This data is largely from the USDA ARS-GRIN website of Dr. David Duke, who compiles phytochemical and ethnobotanical scientific study in a professional database. In recent years, research has also proven that pancreatic beta cells may regrow, and some reversal of loss of pancreatic function may occur. A thorough holistic treatment approach may be needed to stimulate the regrowth of pancreatic beta cells and return of pancreatic insulin production, and Complementary and Integrative Medicine and TCM may help provide this comprehensive protocol.

If you are not afflicted with Diabetes Type 1, or true diabetes, your insulin problems may be even more complex. The diagnosis of Diabetes Type 2 is actually referring to Metabolic Syndrome in most cases, which for a relatively small subset of patients may proceed to a diabetic state, with uncontrolled blood sugar. This implies that you have developed an imbalance that led to insulin resistance (refer to the articles on this website concerning Diabetes/Metabolic Syndrome, Metabolic Syndrome and Pre-Diabetic states, and Obesity to gain a fuller understanding). In recent years, the diagnosis of diabetes utilizes the A1C index as well as the fasting glucose in circulation, which has dramatically increased the number of diagnoses of diabetes and prediabetic states. The A1C is a measure of an advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) found in hemoglobin that correlates with both insulin metabolism and health of the red blood cells. Use of the A1C index alone to diagnose diabetes and prescribe drugs has been discouraged by the American Diabetic Association, but this advice has been largely ignored. A number of blood markers have been found to correlate with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), TNF-alpha, leptin and resistin, but are rarely utilized in testing. Numerous studies have shown that the A1C percentage level may be altered by various factors, including prescription drugs, and that the appropriate or optimum level is not the same for all patients. Distinguishing between Metabolic Syndrome and true diabetes will help both the patient and the doctor to treat more effectively. Understanding the insulin metabolism will also help when trying to reverse the underlying health problems of this disorder, as well as in managing the disease. There is an array of treatment options that can be safely incorporated into your overall treatment plan, and here again, the decisions do not involve one type of medicine versus another, but rather integrating healthy medical protocols into your overall approach to the problem, and utilizing a proactive approach.

Actual measurement of the insulin level is almost never performed, although the test is available, as well as the related test for C-peptide. Actual insulin testing is performed only in cases of inexplicable low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, or to diagnose a type of cancerous growth called an insulinoma, or to verify that the removal of this tumor has been successful. The test has been recommended for Type 2 Diabetes to identify the degree of insulin resistance, but this assessment involves some expertise and effort and is rarely performed. Instead, the medical community assumes that there is a deficiency of insulin production from the A1C index. We see this history of assumption even reflected in the scientific studies from renowned experts at great university medical schools. Insulin has a relatively short life span and variability in level of production, based on a complex feedback mechanism, so assessment of actual insulin production is not easy. To measure and assess the level of insulin resistance at the target cells, mainly the fat cells and liver cells, a C-peptide test may be performed. Insulin and C-peptide are produced at the same rate as the conversion of proinsulin to insulin in the pancreas. C-peptide is measured by a combination of a blood test and a 24-hour urine sample to be accurate. These tests for insulin and C-peptide should be performed when the patient with Metabolic Syndrome proceeding to a diabetic state may need exogenous insulin to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, but are not often performed today. Patients are ill-informed of this insulin physiology and rarely insist on these tests. When blood sugars are increasingly uncontrolled, with repeated fasting glucose tests performed over time, or home monitoring showing poor control, the patient should first try conservative methods for controlling their circulating glucose levels and work to improve pancreatic and liver health and function. There is still no serious program for patients in this regard in standard medical practice. Instead there is a rush for more pharmaceutical dependency. Proactive and informed patients will question this protocol, and may opt to try conservative treatments with healthier long-term outcomes. While it may be simpler to just take the pills, the health outcomes will be remarkably improved if the metabolism and blood sugars are controlled with an individualized regimen of dietary habits, lifestyle and exercise habits, and intelligent use of CIM/TCM.

Increasingly, synthetic insulin is prescribed to treat Metabolic syndrome diagnosed as diabetes with the A1C index. The use of synthetic insulin must be carefully monitored for dosage on a daily basis, and the incidence of hypoglycemia resulting from insulin use is higher in patients with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, which is often a Metabolic Syndrome. A 1998 study entitled the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study noted that major hypoglycemia occurred in 2.3 percent of Type 2 diabetic patients who ere treated with insulin, compared to the incidence of 0.1 to 0.4 percent in these patients treated with diet and lifestyle, or sulfonylurea drugs. When the A1C index was below 7.4 percent, indicating a modest risk of diabetes, the incidence of major hypoglycemic episodes was much higher, yet many patients with an A1C between 5.4 and 7.4 percent were prescribed insulin. In subsequent long-term studies, an incident rate for major hypoglycemic episodes occurred at the rate of about 8 episodes per 100 patient years in patients treated intensively with synthetic insulin. These recurrent hypoglycemic episodes may lead to cumulative cognitive impairment and other health problems over time. Insulin use also frequently leads to weight gain, especially in patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Since weight gain and obesity is a hallmark of insulin resistant Metabolic Syndrome, this is counterproductive. Patient understanding of their A1C index and risks with ranges of average fasting blood glucose allow both a participation in choices of treatment and evaluation of risk versus benefit, as well as better incentive to utilize healthier methods to correct dysfunctions of insulin metabolism. Levels of A1C between 7.1 and 8.4 require increased monitoring, while those between 6.1 and 7.0 are considered to indicate that the metabolism is under control. Fasting blood sugar levels below 127 are considered normal, not diabetic, and fasting blood sugar levels between 127 and 155 are considered elevated but in control. Patients with these modest elevations may take steps to improve the metabolic function with diet, lifestyle changes, nutrient medicine, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

A March 19, 2015 article in Shots, Healthcare News from NPR (National Public Radio, by Anders Kelto, describing how Medical Doctors such as Dr. Jeremy Greene of Johns Hopkins University have noticed in recent years that their patients with diabetes increasingly show poor control of blood sugars, and an inquiry found that many patients now could not afford their out-of-pocket costs of synthetic insulin, which for many has reached a sizable portion of the $400 per month this now can cost. As pharmaceuticals have developed synthetic insulin products, and thus maintained patent rights, cheaper generic products have been eliminated from the American market, although some studies show high patient satisfaction even from the early bioidentical insulin products derived from bovine organs, which are still available in Canada and Europe, where overall pharmaceutical costs are much lower than in the United States. Such manipulation of the pharmaceutical market has led to enormous healthcare costs and a crisis in unaffordability. Integration of Complementary Medicine is just one part of the solution to this threatening situation, perhaps lowering the need for increasingly expensive synthetic insulin, and at the same time restoring metabolic and pancreatic health. To do nothing would result in a growing healthcare crisis in diabetes.

Taking a proactive approach to diseases related to insulin is going to insure a much better outcome. Of course, true diabetes is a complicated and serious health problem that requires professional guidance. Your own knowledge is important to your health, but to insure safe and effective use of herbs and nutrient medicines you need to turn to a professional that shows knowledge and experience that you can trust. Your care needs to be monitored and your health questions and concerns addressed in a professional manner. If you are interested in these Complementary Medicine aids to a healthier life as a diabetic, schedule a consultation and find out for yourself how a Licensed Acupuncturist can help you to avoid side effects, decrease pharmaceutical dependancy and improve your ability to manage your health. With Metabolic Syndrome as well, utilizing a knowledgeable Complementary Medicine physician will insure a well ordered and systematic approach to restoration of homeostatic health.

The first thing the patient must understand in true diabetes is that when the body's homeostatic mechanisms of maintenance are hindered, a proactive approach must be taken to insure that we compensate for the lack of automatic maintenance. The patient can do much to manage their metabolic functions as well as to increase the health of systems that compensate for the problems of pancreatic dysfunction. To do this, as with all proactive health approaches, the patient needs to gain an incresed understanding of the body's metabolism over time, and to utilize a knowledgeable physician to help in this process. By exerting control over the sugar and fat metabolism and the habits of energy usage in the body, one may compensate to a large degree for the lack of insulin, or the lack of an ordered insulin response. Injecting insulin does not completely replace the natural system of insulin feedback in the body, since insulin injections do not provide enough of a variable insulin response. We compensate for this by taking blood sugar samples with a device after eating and upon waking, and varying the insulin dosage, but more can be done to control the insulin levels by controlling diet and activity, as well as improving the overall function of metabolic systems in the body.

There has been a wealth of new knowledge of the insulin metabolism, as well as the tissues in the pancreas, called the Islets of Langerhans, that produce most of the insulin in the body. In the recent past, scientists believed that the these tissues could not regenerate when they were destroyed by the autoimmune processes that define Diabetes Type 1, or true diabetes. This has been disproven. While a person with this autoimmune destruction of the insulin producing tissues is not going to be well in a month by taking herbs and getting acupuncture, there is hope that a thorough integrated and holistic approach could restore insulin production over time. In addition, there has been much progress in research toward correction of autoimmune processes, and tissue regeneration and maintenance. While it will be many years in the future before thorough human testing reveals the extent to which we can stimulate a regrowth and restoration of insulin production with a holistic approach, the patient can only benefit by utilizing these therapeutic approaches today. Holistic and Complementary Medicine does not come with the same risks and side effects of standard pharmaceutical approaches, and the side effects in Complementary Medicine usually involve improved health overall.

Understanding the Insulin Metabolism and Physiology

Insulin is a protein steroid hormone. The insulin producing cells in the pancreas are dispersed throughout the organ in islets of endocrine cells. When these small groups of cells are attacked and destroyed in the autoimmune process, the rest of the pancreas continues to function normally, producing digestive enzymes as well as other hormones.

Insulin affects and regulates many important aspects of your metabolism. As well as regulating the transport of glucose across cell membranes and utilization and storage of fats, insulin also regulates the transport of some amino acids, some fatty acids, potassium, magnesium and certain key sugar molecules, or monosaccharides. Insulin also mediates the formation of important cellular components that relate to a variety of cell functions. In addition, insulin plays an essential role in stimulation of the breakdown and reassembly of a variety of important metabolic molecules, especially in the body's factory, the liver. This metabolism not only utilizes sugars, fats and proteins for energy, but produces a variety of molecules that regulate cellular processes throughout the body, such as protein messengers, DNA and RNA. Insulin also increses rates of oxidation and enzymatic activity that controls the rates of magnesium, sodium and potassium activated breakdown and recycling of the most important muscular fuel, ATP. In addition, insulin heavily influences other bodily functions, such as vascular compliance and cognition. Problems with the insulin metabolism thus affect a wide variety of systems over time, contributing to fatique and muscle weakness, memory and cognitive function, tissue repair and maintenance, defense against cancerous growth, etc. Improving insulin metabolism in your body may improve a variety of health concerns and help you to achieve a better quality of life.

Insulin, like all hormones, acts by stimulating the activity of various receptors. Steroid hormones are very similar to one another and act in a complex feedback system, called the endocrine system. Imbalances of other hormones can have a very big impact on the insulin metabolism. As with other hormones, such as thyroid hormone, parathyroid hormone, progesterone and estrogen, function of the receptors is very important in the overall picture. A variety of nutritional deficiencies and imbalances can affect the function of the hormone receptors, and just as in subclinical hypothyroid conditions, these nutritional imbalances may play a significant role in disruption of insulin metabolism. There exists between 100 and 100,000 of these insulin receptors per cell in different tissues in our bodies depending upon the degree to which the tissues depend on the hormonal signalling of insulin. Almost all cells in the body have some insulin receptors, and insulin-like molecules have been identified that play a significant role in our physiological regulation as well, especially in the realm of inflammatory mediation and tissue growth. Different tissues in the body react to insulin in very different ways, as well. For example, while insulin regulates glucose transport and utilization in most cells in the body, it does not regulate glucose transport and utilization in the brain tissues, despite the vast number of insulin receptors in the brain. Since a steady supply of glucose in necessary for proper brain function, there is an alternate system of glucose metabolic regulation in the brain. Instead, insulin plays important roles in the brain that regulate tissue growth and repair, as well as a host of other important maintenance issues. Lowered insulin and insulin receptor sites are now a key diagnostic marker for Alzheimer's disease, and both metabolic syndrome with insulin resistance, and neurotoxicity with advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and protein amyloid beta toxins called diffusable ligands, are thought to be involved in the progression of this neurodegenerative disease.

Insulin has been shown to play a host of important functions in skeletal muscle, besides glucose and fat utilization. Transport of key molecules into cells has been linked to insulin conjugation. For example, in human lymphocytes, or immune white blood cells, insulin has been shown to act as a carrier for a light activated form of a chemical called psoralen, which is used to treat a variety of diseases, including psoriasis and vitiligo, two autoimmune diseases. Psoralen is a chemical that is found in foods, and a concentrated dosage is obtained from various Chinese herbs. We see from this the importance of insulin in a variety of health problems and the optimum function of the immune system.

The link between cancer control and insulin is also heavily researched. Breast and colon cancer cell membranes have been shown to have plentiful insulin receptors, and insulin-like molecules (PPARG and IGF) have been implicated in the stimulation as well as the stopping of cancerous growth. The key to these physiological functions is balance. When there is a the correct balance of insulin and insulin-like growth factors, as well as the correct balance of insulin receptors, there is a maintenance of health. While allopathic medicine continues to treat these problems as a simple matter of attacking unwanted chemicals, molecules, cells and cell receptors in the body, we are learning that the balance of the homeostatic mechanism is much more important than specifics. The body acts in a very complex symbiotic and quantum field manner. This homeostasis is what keeps us functioning optimally. Attacking specific aspects of the metabolism and function will have dramatic effects, but restoring homeostatic balances will have even more profound effects.

Toxic effects of dietary habits and common commercial sugars and fats may be the most important drivers of pancreatic dysfunction and inhibition of normal insulin metabolism

Sustained high circulating glucose and the subsequent effects on excess insulin hormone have long been studied, but the effects of toxicity from commercial sugars and fats is now emerging as an important factor in the pathology, as well as caffeine separated from natural sources, such as coffee and tea. Excess insulin hormone drives growth of fat cells and obesity, insulin resistance, and numerous inflammatory problems, especially with cardiovascular inflammation. To really affect the overall insulin pathology, though, avoidance of key dietary toxins may be needed. The effects of glucotoxic and lipotoxic actions are not simple to analyze, though, and research is finding that an array of factors needs to be considered to describe such toxicity in the individual.

Transfats and high fructose corn syrup are the two most studied of commercial food chemicals that may exert toxic effects on pancreatic insulin metabolism. In animal studies, short-term supplementation with transfats derived from altered palm oils doubled the insulin response to a high glucose in circulation in animals with induced diabetes, but not in normal control animals (study citd below). Avoidance of transfats in an early stage of diabetic dysfunction may prevent some of the pathological effects that occur with frequent high insulin stimulation. The effects of a high-glycemic index diet have long been noted as the key contributor to weight gain and diabetes type 2, or Metabolic Syndrome, but more recent research points to a more direct role in impaired pancreatic beta-cell function, insulin resistance at cell receptors, and the chronic inflammatory mechanisms that drive pancreatic destruction and enlarged fat cells (see the Harvard study cited below). High fructose corn syrup appears to be the worst offender, but sucrose and concentrated fruit juice sweeteners also appear to be potentially toxic to the pancreas, and insulin metabolism.

Energy drinks have been shown to exert significant potentially toxic effects, especially on young adults and children. These drinks are now heavily promoted, and usually contain commercial sugars, high caffeine content, and stimulant herbs that have a potentially toxic effect and may contribute to pancreatic and liver toxicity. Studies point to the levels of caffeine and commercial sugars in energy drinks as the cause of adverse health effects, and the elimination of guarana, ephedrine, ginseng and high levels of taurine, much touted in recent years, does not appear to reduce adverse effects, but diverts public attention from the hazards of high fructose, sucrose and caffeine consumption from energy drinks. The addition of beneficial nutrient supplements and herbs to these drinks do not make them safe, especially in patients with an early diabetic state, or a high risk of diabetes. Caffeine in high energy drinks presents much greater negative impact on cardiovascular health and oxidative stress than caffeine in quality tea and coffee. Natural teas and coffees contain a host of beneficial chemicals and antioxidants that counter potential toxic effects of caffeine, and limit dosage. Caffeine added to soft drinks and especially energy drinks is potentially much more toxic, with toxic overdoses noted in many thousands of cases each year in the United States, and the effects of caffeine divorced from the natural antioxidant protections found in natural teas and coffees particularly harmful in many patients.

Insulin affectors:

  • insulinotonic: saw palmetto, zexie, shanyao, garlic, danggui, ginger, absinthe, gentian, mate, Am ginseng, pea sprout, okra, onion, shallot, garlic, burdock, oats, beets, bokchoy, mustard greens, cabbage, kale, collards, hemp seed, chickpea, lime, endive, cucumber, pumpkin seed, carrot, fennel, barleygrass, mango, lentil, alfalfa sprouts, avocado, strawberry, guava, thyme, spinach,
  • insulinogenic: ginseng, danggui, baizhi, sangbaipi, shanyao, zexie, shengma, maidong, rougui, huangqi, dazao, garlic, zhike, duzhong, lianquiao, jinyinhua, longdancao, shenjincao, dahuang, aiye, xixin, mahuang, yarrow, gotu kola leaf, comfrey root, cardamon, chamomile, cha tea, feverfew, gentian, valerian, crampbark, nettle, kale, collards, endive, dandelion greens, soy, onion, garlic, chives, bell pepper, cashew, burdock, oats, beets, cabbage, mustard greens, papaya, mango, kiwi, tamarind, pumpkin seed, fennel, adzuki bean, corn, strawberry, St Johnswort, walnut, lentil, flaxseed, 400mg Magnesium, Quercetin
  • insulinase inhibitor: zhimu, zexie, shanyao, danggui, longdancao, American ginseng, gingko seed, saw palmetto, purslane, mate, banana, plantain, corn, pea sprouts, oregano, garlic, ginger, elephant garlic, kale, endive, okra, cashew, oats, buckwheat, lentil, barley, barleygrass, rye, adzuki bean, asparagus, beet, avocado, achiote, bokchoy, turnip, mustard leaf, kohlrabi, broadbean, fava bean, thyme, corn, bell pepper, papaya, watermelon, guava, blueberry, apricot, peach

Key Nutrients in the Insulin metabolism

Various nutrient formulas are being developed based on current research. One example is a formula from Vitamin Research called AGE Block, which combines L-Carnosine, L-Histidine, N-Acetyl Cysteine, L-Arginine, and R-Lipoic acid in a formula to decrease formation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). An example of an AGE is A1C, a marker now used extensively to diagnose diabetes. Information below will tell you how these amino acids benefit insulin metabolism.

  • Tyrosine: tyrosine is an amino acid that is the first in a chain on a number of key protein enzymes and hormones related to the insulin metabolism. Tyrosine is an essential amino acid, meaning that we need a steady supply in the diet, and because of the importance of tyrosine in the body, excess need can also play a part in physiological deficiency.
  • Inositol: inositol molecules play an important part in the mechanism of insulin release, with IP3 (inositol triphosphate) binding to receptors to allow calcium ions to control insulin release. As nutriceutical or naturopathic research improves, specific nutrient molecules are discovered to improve treatment. One form of inositol that may have a beneficial effect is inositol hexacotinate, which is a form of niacin (non-flushing). Inositol hexacotinate is proven useful to control triglyceride levels, reducing free fatty acids in circulation, improving circulation and vasodilation, and various cardiovascular and neurological disorders.
  • Carnitine: carnitine is an essential amino acid that plays a big role in regulation of our sugar and fat metabolism, and supplementation with carnitine in various forms has been proven to be beneficial in improving the insulin metabolism. Specific formulas of cofactors, such as alpha-lipoic acid, R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, etc. are heavily researched to achieve specific results. A combination L-carnitine L-tartrate and the formula AGE Block (Vitamin Research), with these cofactors, is recommended to improve insulin metabolism.
  • Zinc monomethionine and Histidine: insulin works best when a group of six insulin molecules are bound into a complex with zinc ions holding them together. Deficiencies and excesses of zinc in the body are both common. Mineral imbalances and excesses of specific zinc molecules may hurt the zinc metabolism, as well as accumulation of heavy metal toxins in the tissues. Zinc monomethionine is a nutrient that delivers an active form of zinc to improve metabolism and benefit cellular membranes. Histidine is also important in the zinc binding of insulin complexes, and the taking of a histidine or histamine affector may have an impact on the insulin metabolims as well. Histadine is also an essential amino acid, and histadine function depends on other amino acids as well, especially cysteine. Histadine is a precursor for histamine and carnosine biosynthesis. Anti-histamine medications may have a negative effect on this metabolism, and various nutrients may have a positive effect. Many anti-histamine drugs are related to control of stomach acidity, and problems with stomach function may play a big role in the insulin dysfunctions.
  • 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: this active metabolite of the amino acid isoleucine is found in various herbs, especially fenugreek seed, and has been studied for decades due to its modulatory insulinogenic capability. The effects of 4-Hydroxyisoleucine are dependant on the level of circulating glucose, making this an ideal and safe insulin promoter. Fennel extracts, isoleucine, and now a standardized extract of 4-Hydroxyisoleucine, are novel tools in the treatment protocol for poor insulin production and regulation.
  • Chromium: chromium supplementation has been proven to exert modest improvement in insulin sensitivity in obese adults with a poor diet and consumption of high fructose corn syrup, and a 2011 study at the Ajou University School of Medicine in Suwon, South Korea, found that short-term chromium supplementation in obese children of ages 9-12 resulted in a lower percentage of body fat and leaner body mass (PMID: 21216583). The effects of chromium appear to be apparent in a select subset of patients and are dose dependent and recommended for a short course of therapy. A high dosage of chromium may adversely affect other minerals, such as iron, over time. Chromium picolinate or propionate are used to more effectively deliver chromium, and patients with a poor diet and overconsumption of simple carbohydrates such as high fructose corn syrup may benefit with the short term addition of chromium picolinate supplement as part of a more complex protocol. Other studies in China indicate that the effects of chromium picolinate may be more evident at the insulin receptors, rather than directly affecting circulating insulin levels. A study at the Shanghai Medical College in 2009 found that chromium affects a cell signalling chemical associated with chronic inflammation, the p38 MAPK pathway, that aids the effects of insulin on the resolution of inflammatory cell dysfunction that perpetuates insulin resistance syndrome.

Various Chinese herbs have been studied and proven effective in stimulating increased insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells, or affecting insulin resistance at the target cells

  • Gynostemma: a few types of Gnynostemma are used in Asian medicine, including Gynostemma pentaphyllum in Southeast Asia, and Gynostemma grandiflora (Jioa gu lan) in China. Studies have shown that chemicals in Gynostemma, such as phanoside, exert specific effects on the direct release of insulin from pancreatic beta cells, in a modulated manner, with pancreatic cells increasing insulin release up to twofold with increased circulating glucose, but not more than this with increased glucose stimulation (see study cited below).
  • Anemarrhena asphodeloides: this Chinese herb (Zhi mu) has long been used to treat diabetes, and exerts significant affects increasing glucose metabolism in the body, and glycogen synthesis in the liver. The water extract of the herb is commonly used and dose dependent. A more recent study, cited below, shows that the alcohol extract contains other chemicals that potentially exert significant insulin secretion stimulation, exerting direct effects on the beta cells of the pancreas.
  • Lycium chinense: this Chinese herb (Di gu pi), utilizing the dried root bark, not the fruit (Gou qi zi, or Goji berry), has also been utilized for centuries in China to treat diabetes, and like the Anemarrhena, recent studies have shown that an alcohol extract is more effective in reducing serum glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, LDL, and improving insulin resistance, as well as decreasing body weight, in animal studies, cited below.
  • Berberine: berberine is a chemical found in a few Chinese herbs, especially Coptidis rhizome, or Coptis chinensis (Huang lian). This herb has long been used to reduce inflammation and treat infection, but many recent studies have found a number of effective used in medical treatment, including the improvement of insulin sensitivity in liver cells, and reduction of the excess inflammatory mediators associated with both pancreatic degneration and dysfunction, and fat cell dysfunction related to insulin resistance.
  • Cordyceps and American Ginseng: these herbs have long been used in China to aid the comprehensive integrated treatment protocol in diabetes, and in recent years, the mechanisms of this benefit have been scientifically elucidated. These herbs affect the insulin metabolism, enhancing insulin release in diabetes via the autonomic nervous system and cholinergic effects (see study links below). This same pathway of healthy modulation and pancreatic enhancement has been noted with electroacupuncture stimulation. While each of these treatment protocols are not the whole answer to diabetes, integration of these protocols is safe and effective, inexpensive, and could significantly lower the dependent dosage of exogenous synthetic insulin and prevent the adverse effects of chronic use.

Besides these helpful effects of herbs in the insulin metabolism, many other helpful treatment strategies are available in herbal medicine, nutrient medicine, and acupuncture. Decreasing inflammatory misregulation, improving liver metabolism, helping to restore blood sugar control quicker after you eat, and achieving better hormonal balance are all essential strategies for the diabetic. Instead of waiting for your disease to overtake your health, take a proactive approach and do all that you can to achieve and restore a healthy life despite having diabetes.

Information Resources

  1. A 2015 investigative report of the growing crisis of insulin-dependent diabetes and the high cost of synthetic insulin, prompting many patients to face a dangerous situation of poor glucose control in the United States, is presented by National Public Radio, showing that a significant percentage of diabetic patients do not have their blood sugar metabolism under control, due to the rising costs of synthetic insulin and the non-availability of less expensive bioidentical insulin extracts used in the past, which are generic, or not held to a patent protection. In the United States, the pharmaceutical industry, with enormous lobbying of the government, has succeeded in controlling these healthcare uses and costs to create an unaffordable situation:
  2. A test for actual insulin levels and assessment of actual insulin resistance is achieved with a simple requests for lab tests of insulin and C-peptide in blood sample and 24-hour urine testing. This test is rarely requested, and standard medicine relies instead on assumptions of insulin production levels and pancreatic conversion of proinsulin to insulin. The A1C, a much less reliable indicator of insulin metabolism and pancreatic function that can be altered by a number of factors, including certain common pharmaceutical drugs, is the lab value that is used to judge insulin resistance in Metabolic Syndrome and diabetes type 2. True insulin levels can be measured with assays using polyclonal antibodies leading to cross-reaction with proinsulin, or with assays employing more specific monoclonal antibodies, which are more specific and sensitive. The C-peptide connects the insulin A-chain to the B-chain in pancreatic proinsulin. The real tests for insulin and C-peptide should be insisted upon by proactive and informed patients:
  3. A 2003 study at the New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. studied 79 patients in a randomized controlled clinical study, with half diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, using the QUICKI method for calculation of insulin resistance, assessing fasting blood glucose levels against actual insulin levels over time. In the healthy controls, 5 percent of patients were found to have insulin resistance, and in the patients diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, the patients were divided about 30/70 with elevated fasting insulin levels and with normal or deficient fasting insulin. About 30 percent had elevated fasting insulin levels, while many researchers today refer to all of these patients with Type 2 Diabetes as deficient in insulin, as a sort of blanket blind belief. Only 54 percent of these patients actually measured for insulin resistance, suggesting that the one-size-fits-all approach today in medicine is definitively wrong:
  4. A 2011 study at China Medical University Hospital, in Taichung, Taiwan, found that electroacupuncture stimulation enhances the hypoglycemic effect of exogenous insulin in study animals with induced diabetes. It was believed from this study that electroacupuncture exerted this modulatory benefit via the autonomic system and cholinergic activation, the principle neurotransmitter used in the parasympathetic system. Integration of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, and medical advice concerning diet and lifestyle could substantially reduce the need for exogenous insulin in diabetes, and thus decrease the adverse effects of chronic dependency on synthetic insulin:
  5. A 2011 study at China Medical University Hospital, in Taichung, Taiwan, found that electroacupuncture stimulation at just one point, ST36, significantly reduces plasma glucose in study animals with induced diabetes, and this effect was clearly accomplished via the stimulation and modulation of the cholinergic autonomic nervous system:
  6. 2007 studies at the Karolinksa Institute and University Hospital, in Stockholm, Sweden, found that a chemical in the herb Gynostemma pentaphylum (Jioa gu lan) significantly increased insulin release in animal studies, and in a modulatory manner:
  7. 2004 studies at Hanoi Medical University in Vietnam found that an alcohol extract of the herb Anemarrhena asphodeloides (Zhi mu), long used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat diabetes, significantly stimulated increased insulin secretion at both modest and high circulating glucose levels in animal studies, exerting direct effects on the pancreatic beta cells in a modulatory manner:
  8. 2012 studies at the University of Manitoba, Canada, found that the Chinese herb Nelumbo nucifera (He ye, Lian zi xin), contains an active chemical called nuciferine that stimulates insulin secretion by closing potassium-adenosine triphosphate channels, helping significantly to normalize blood sugars with little or no beta-cell toxicity. Taking these herbal extracts with potassium increased insulin secretion:
  9. 2008 studies at Zhejiang Medical University in Hangzhou, China, found that the alcohol extract of Cortex Lycii Radicis (Di gu pi) was more effective than the water extract, and in animal studies significantly lowered serum glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, LDL, and improved insulin resistance:
  10. A 2012 study at the College of Life Sciences, National Tsing Hua University, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, found that the Chinese herb Cordyceps militaris (Dong chong xia cao) can significantly lower blood glucose in diabetes via the modulatory stimulation of insulin resistance and cholinergic activation in the autonomic nervous system:
  11. A 2006 study at China Medical University, in Taichung, Taiwan, found that active chemicals in ginseng could signficantly lower plasma glucose in diabetes via enhancement of insulin secretion and cholinergic activation of the autonomic nervous system. American ginseng has long been noted as a significant aid in the treatment of diabetes and regulation of insulin metabolism, and a combination of Cordyceps and American ginseng powders is available in the U.S. to integrate into a more complete treatment protocol:
  12. 2010 studies at the Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine of Nanjing, China, showed that the herbal chemical berberine, from the herb Coptis chinensis (Huang lian) significantly improved insulin resistance in liver cells and reduced associated inflammatory mediators TNFalpha and IL-6:
  13. 2010 studies at the China Pharmaceutical University found that the chemical Resveratrol, found in various Chinese herbs, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced the expression of inflammatory cytokines from fat cells:
  14. 2011 studies at Shanghai Jiaotong University in China found that luteolin, an active chemical in various Chinese herbs, including Loniceris japonica (Jin yin hua), and Humulus scandens (Lu cao), effectively reduced the negative inflammatory effects of insulin resistance on arterial endothelium:
  15. 2007 studies at the Karolinksa Institute and University Hospital, in Stockholm, Sweden, found that the transfatty acid palmitate induced a doubling response in insulin secretion from a high glucose circulation in diabetes-induced study animals, but no alteration in insulin response from normal animals. Palmitate, or hexadecanoic acid, is one of the most common fatty acids found in animals, plants and microorganisms, and is added to low-fat and fat-free milk to replace the loss of nutrients from removal of milk fat:
  16. In 2010, the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, reported that recent evidence implicates high fructose corn syrup and other commercial sweeteners, such as sucrose, and concentrated fruit juice, seen in most commercial sweet beverages, as a significant contributor to insulin resistance, impaired pancreatic beta-cell function, and chronic inflammatory dysfunction associated with insulin pathology: