Blood Sugar – Healthy Support for Optimal Levels

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each week, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Blood Sugar – Healthy Support for Optimal Levels

As the development and progression of unhealthy blood glucose metabolism can often take years, it is important to establish and inculcate practices early on which can support healthy blood sugar metabolism.

Powerful Practices to Promote a Healthy Relationship between You and Sugar

You can take charge of your body’s struggle to control glucose. Implementing these powerful practices can promote healthy blood sugar metabolism as a part of your diet.

Eat Less Sugar and Eat It More Slowly

The “sugar load” you place on your body directly reflects how much sugar and starch you eat – the more glucose in any form that you eat or drink, digest, absorb and send into your blood, the more you need to work to get the glucose into your cells. Thus, eating less simple carbohydrates and processed foods, while eating more complex carbohydrates and fiber-rich foods, can lead to decreased absorption of sugar from meals and better overall blood sugar regulation. Why make your blood sugar-regulation system work any harder than is necessary?

Establish and Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

As is confirmed by recently published research body fat interferes with insulin’s ability to stimulate your muscle cells to remove glucose from your blood.1 The more fat you’re carrying, the less able you are to maintain healthy blood glucose regulation. Period. No more discussion. No excuses. Maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise facilitates proper sugar utilization. Get your weight right and help keep your blood glucose under control. It’s that simple.

DASH to Glucose Health

Lifestyle changes that incorporate a combination of weight loss, reduced sodium intake, increased physical activity, moderation of alcohol intake and a diet high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products (low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol contents; high in magnesium, calcium and protein contents) – the “DASH” Lifestyle – dramatically improve insulin sensitivity in older adults who are not yet hyperglycemic. Even simply increasing the number of servings of fruits and vegetables consumed daily to 5 (still below the recommended 7 to 9 servings) has been shown to provide powerful protection to the blood glucose regulatory system. So has cutting back to only one serving of red meat daily. Of course, so has consuming the recommended amount of dietary fiber which, according to a recent study, can improve insulin sensitivity by about 10% and contribute to sustained maintenance of healthy blood glucose control into the future.2 The merits of this lifestyle approach have been reinforced by the findings in a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – limiting yourself to only one serving of French fries a week significantly enhances chances of having healthy blood glucose control.3

Add the Correct Mix of Minerals

The US Food and Drug Administration approved a Qualified Health Claim for chromium – they agreed that daily dietary supplementation with chromium picolinate (with more than 50 mcg of chromium) can improve insulin sensitivity and restore and maintain healthy blood glucose regulation and homeostasis.4 The US Food and Drug Administration also has determined that daily chromium picolinate may reduce the risk of developing adult onset (“type 2”) diabetes later in life.4 The results of a human clinical trial published recently in Fertility and Sterility confirm that dietary supplementation with chromium picolinate (1000 mcg of chromium daily) dramatically supports the maintenance of healthy blood glucose regulation and protects it from destabilizing influences.5

Adequate intake of the important mineral magnesium is required for maintenance of stable insulin sensitivity. In individuals with normal fasting blood glucose and insulin concentrations, fasting plasma insulin concentration goes down as dietary magnesium intake goes up – a principle that was confirmed again in the results of a study published recently in Diabetes Care.6 In other words, as magnesium intake increases, less insulin is needed to help muscle cells obtain glucose from the blood. The longer you can maintain a high degree of insulin efficiency, the longer you maintain adequate blood glucose regulation capacity. As shown in a 6-year study of 39,345 women, a 12-year study of 42,872 men and an 18-year study of 85,060 women – adults who routinely consume at least 300 mg of magnesium daily have healthier glucose metabolism over the years and are more likely to maintain health with age.

The little-known trace mineral, vanadium, also plays important roles in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Vanadium may also protect other tissues against the potential consequences of chronically dysregulated blood sugar. In a study of rat eyes published recently in the Journal of Biosciences, vanadium protected the lens from the destructive effects of overexposure to glucose.7 In live rats, vanadium supplementation has prevented disruptions in glucose regulation caused by a diabetes-inducing drug. While these studies were in diseased animals, vanadium may also be of utility in healthy humans. As an example, supplementation with 150 mg of vanadium (as vanadyl sulfate) daily has been shown to increase the ability to move glucose from the blood into muscle cells – promoting the sustained normalization of blood glucose regulation in human subjects.

It seems that minerals function in synergy with one another – vanadium contributes to blood glucose regulation by facilitating the regulatory actions of magnesium, while magnesium enables chromium to increase the insulin sensitivity of muscle cells.

A Note of Caution – Never become confused by thinking that dietary ingredients such as chromium, magnesium or vanadium, effective components of a comprehensive healthy blood glucose maintenance program, can substitute for hypoglycemic drugs if your blood glucose already is out of control. As shown by the results of a human clinical trial published recently in Diabetes Care, maintaining healthy blood glucose regulation is not the same as restoring regulation by the treatment of an existing disease.8 Thus, take your minerals to help keep you healthy before your sugar levels are to the point where they may not do much good.

Sprinkle on the Cinnamon

Cinnamon can facilitate the normal action of insulin. In men and women, 1 to 6 g of cinnamon daily maintained normal blood sugar levels in a study that reinforced the expectation that cinnamon consumption can contribute to the maintenance of healthy blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity. However, the results of a human clinical trial published recently in the Journal of Nutrition suggest that small amounts of cinnamon (less than 3 g daily) may not contribute to the maintenance of healthy sugar metabolism.9 It appears that the benefits of cinnamon adhere to the time-honored culinary principle that too little spice is without effect. However, a small study conducted using a particular water-soluble cinnamon extract showed significant benefits on blood sugar levels and body composition. The results of the study pointed out that individuals supplemented with 500 mg per day of the extract had healthier fasting blood sugar levels and a statistically significant decrease in body fat than individuals in the placebo group when the extract was given as a part of a healthy diet.10

Dark Chocolate in Moderation

How can something that tastes so good be so healthy? According to the results of a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, faithful daily consumption of 4 ounces of dark chocolate (containing about 500 mg of quercetin and mixed catechins) helped maintain normal sensitivity to insulin, contributing to healthy blood sugar control.11 One caution – this much dark chocolate will add about 500 calories to your daily caloric intake. Remember to adjust your dietary intake of calories – and exercise more – instead of just adding the chocolate!

Herbal Support for Healthy Blood Sugar

Extracts of the leaves of the herb Gymnema sylvestre contain phytonutrients that promote and sustain healthy blood sugar concentrations. Gymnema is an herb that has been used traditionally in the Ayurvedic herbal system to support normal blood sugar levels and has been researched in animals and humans.12 This herb acts in part by slowing the rate of absorption of the sugar in foods and beverages. However, because this herbal extract also may act in part by stimulating some insulin secretion by the pancreas and by itself could contribute to hyperinsulinemia, it should not be consumed alone but only in combination with the other dietary ingredients that increase the efficiency of insulin action in muscle and stimulate glucose entry into muscle cells.

Fenugreek seeds contain 4-hydroxyisoleucine, an amino acidlike phytonutrient that increases muscle cell sensitivity to insulin and facilitates the maintenance of long-term glucose homeostasis. Findings published recently in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry confirmed the results of a number of previous studies by showing that Fenugreek seed powder promotes sustained normalization of blood glucose regulation.13 Similarly, the daily consumption of several grams of powdered Fenugreek seeds has been found to contribute to the stabilization and maintenance of healthy fasting plasma glucose concentrations and oral glucose tolerance (ability to move glucose from the blood into muscle cells) in men and women. In addition, a study of rat eyes published recently in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry found that Fenugreek seed powder protected the lens and retina from the destructive effects of overexposure to glucose.14 These reports demonstrate that Fenugreek seed powder promotes 1) normalization of blood glucose regulation, 2) protective glucose homeostasis in the tissues most susceptible to permanent hyperglycemic damage and 3) stabilization and maintenance of healthy oral glucose tolerance. Thus adding herbs like Gymnema sylvestre as a dietary supplement, and incorporating spices like Fenugreek and others to your diet, can lead to long-term healthy regulation of blood sugar metabolism.

Phytonutrients for Healthy Blood Sugar Maintenance

The findings of two recently published studies indicate that the phytonutrients (not the caffeine) in both regular and “decaf” coffees are beneficial in the maintenance of healthy blood glucose regulation.15,16 In fact, the more coffee these 117,071 American women drank on a regular basis, day in, day out, year after year, the better their regulation of blood glucose metabolism. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid and trigonelline, its two major phytonutrient components. A recent study found that acute intake of chlorogenic acid and trigonelline in 15 men was found to significantly reduce blood sugar levels as assessed by performance of an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) compared to placebo.17

Maintaining blood sugar levels in an ideal range is an important cornerstone for health and wellness. Healthy blood sugar regulation can be achieved by implementing several dietary measures, incorporating exercise and other healthy lifestyle practices into your daily routine, and by adding health-promoting nutritional supplements to your daily regimen.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Healthy Circulation: Go with the Flow

1. Virtanen KA, Iozzo P, Hallsten K, Huupponen R, Parkkola R, Janatuinen T, Lonnqvist F, Viljanen T, Ronnemaa T, Lonnroth P, Knuuti J, Ferrannini E, Nuutila P. Increased fat mass compensates for insulin resistance in abdominal obesity and type 2 diabetes: A positron-emitting tomography study. Diabetes 2005;54:2720-2726.
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