Blood sugar can be defined as the concentration of glucose in the blood.  These levels can be influenced by diet, stress, illness, use of certain medications, exercise and alcohol use.  Typically, the body regulates blood sugar levels as part of the metabolic process, and these levels fluctuate throughout the day.  However, if blood sugar levels are consistently outside the normal range, this may signal a medical problem.

Bile and enzymes help to break down sugars and starches from the foods we eat into glucose which is transported from the intestines or liver through the bloodstream.  There, it works with insulin (made chiefly in the pancreas) to fuel cells and provide energy to the body.

Foods that are made up of simple carbohydrates often tend to elevate blood glucose levels.  Some examples are white flour and rice, white potatoes, pastries, soda and processed food products.  To keep blood glucose levels in check, these foods should be limited and replaced with a diet of lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.

Consistent high blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes which is the 3rd leading cause of death among American citizens.  In fact, by the year 2030, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is expected to verge on 440 million!  Long-term complications associated with diabetes include heart disease and damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves.   Blood sugar maintenance can reduce the risk of these complications by as much as 40%.

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, thirst, unexplained weight loss, weakness or fatigue and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.  Other symptoms that can appear are blurred vision and dry or itchy skin.

While many doctors prescribe insulin as a treatment for diabetes, here are a few natural products that may help in the maintenance of blood sugar (always check with your health care provider before using):

Alpha-lipoic acid:  A healthy body naturally makes plenty of alpha-lipoic acid.  It can be found in red meat and brewer’s yeast and is also available as a natural supplement in capsule form.  In several studies, alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels, and it is believed to help reduce the burning, itching, tingling and numbness associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage.

Cinnamon:  Research shows that cinnamon - in combination with regular diabetes treatment - may be helpful for type 2 diabetes.  A study published in 2009 on subjects with poorly controlled, type 2 diabetes found that cinnamon taken twice daily for 90 days improved levels of hemoglobin A1C (an average level of blood sugar for the prior two to three months).

Gymnema sylvestre:  Gymnema sylvestre is an herb that has been used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Indian medicine to lower the absorption of glucose into the body and diminish sweetness in foods. It is available through natural food stores in your community or online.

A healthy lifestyle is essential to managing blood sugar levels.  Experts advise at least 30 minutes of physical exercise three to five times per week and maintaining a healthy weight.  People who are trying to control blood sugar shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, and it is important to manage stress, get adequate sleep and limit alcohol use.