Tina G. Bilberry is packed with nutrients called flavinoids, which improve blood circulation.

Diabetes is a serious medical condition that requires constant care and attention. There are herbal remedies that improve blood sugar metabolism, which are effective while under a doctor's care.

About Diabetes

This condition is characterized by the body's inability to move digested carbohydrates and sugars into cells.

Insulin, a protein hormone, is necessary to shuttle the nutrients into the cells. People with diabetes either no longer make insulin, don't make enough of it, or their cells stop responding to it no matter how much of it is present.

Diabetes that strikes people younger than age 20 is usually Type I, or juvenile-onset diabetes. Researchers think this is an autoimmune disorder in which the body has destroyed its own insulin-making cells. These people must take insulin on a daily basis and watch their diet carefully.

Those diagnosed with diabetes after 20 years of age usually have Type II, or adult-onset diabetes. These people are often, but not always, overweight. Their insulin-making cells still work, but they either don't make enough of this hormone or the body's other cells have become desensitized to it. Treatment often includes weight reduction and oral medications to stimulate insulin production.

Regardless of whether a person has Type I or II diabetes, it's important to keep an eye on blood sugar levels. Having too much sugar in the bloodstream eventually damages organs throughout the body. Not having enough blood sugar can result in mental confusion and even coma and death if severe enough.

Herbal Remedies for Diabetes

Eating a diet rich in fiber helps the body absorb sugars slowly, which in turn keeps blood sugar levels on a more even keel. Most of the vegetables and fruits in your garden are rich in fiber. The soluble type of fiber, the one that does the best job of stabilizing blood sugar levels, is abundant in apples, apricots, beets, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, parsnips, and winter squash, to name a few. Oats are extremely rich in soluble fiber; their bran makes a good addition to cereals and baked goods. Soluble fiber is also helpful in lowering elevated LDL cholesterol levels, a serious problem in many people with diabetes.

Consume garlic and onions in large quantities. These flavorful foods help to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol and prevent heart disease. People with diabetes tend to have a greater risk of heart disease because the lack of insulin prompts fat to float throughout the bloodstream longer and in higher levels than normal. Eat a diet abundant in vegetables and moderate in sweet fruits to get a rich array of antioxidants such as vitamin C, the carotenes, and flavonoids. Antioxidants help prevent fats from oxidizing and causing damage to artery walls, which can lead to plaque buildup and heart disease.

Basil leaves have been shown to lower blood sugar levels. Cactus juice from pods, sometimes found in produce markets or grown in arid climates, is also helpful.

The leaves of the bilberry plant are known to lower blood sugar levels, but don't try to self-medicate your diabetes -- contact a nutritionally trained health care provider before changing your regimen. The berries of this wild perennial help people with diabetes avoid some of the typical complications that are usually related to diminished blood circulation. They have compounds in them that improve circulation and help keep blood cells from clumping together. Their flavonoids keep tiny blood capillaries strong so blood can continue to circulate to all parts of the body.

The leaves of the fig tree are a very useful blood-sugar-lowering treatment. Fig trees can be grown in warmer climates. Use caution if you are taking insulin or an oral hypoglycemic drug.

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Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.