Diabetes is a chronic condition where an individual’s body cannot maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. Unhealthy blood glucose levels can lead to a variety of long term and short term problems.

Glucose is a type of sugar, and is the body’s main source of energy. To function properly, our bodies require sugars (glucose) to be converted into energy. The hormone, insulin, is essential for the conversion of glucose to energy, and is therefore responsible for stabilizing the amount of sugar in the blood. People with diabetes tend to have insufficient insulin levels which results in a build-up of glucose in the blood.

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: With this type of diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It is an autoimmune condition, and the cause of this reaction is currently unknown. This type is less common than type 2 diabetes (affecting approximately 10% of people), and usually occurs before the age of 40. People with this type of diabetes have to depend on insulin injections every day of their lives and must check their blood sugar levels several times throughout the day. It is one of the most common childhood illnesses in developed nations.
  • Type 2 diabetes: This type is where the body either does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production), or the body’s cells do not react to insulin (insulin resistance). It is often associated with overweight and obese people, is more likely to develop in older people, and has strong genetic and family related risk factors. This type is usually managed with a combination of regular physical activity, healthy eating, and weight reduction, but as this condition is progressive, some people require oral medicines and/or insulin injections.
  • Gestational diabetes: This occurs when, during pregnancy, the body has such high levels of glucose that it is unable to produce enough insulin to convert it all to energy. This occurs because the placenta produces hormones to help the baby grow and develop. These hormones block the action of the mother’s insulin, resulting in insulin resistance. This type of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. It usually affects 5 – 10% of pregnant women, with this condition occurring around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. It is more likely to affect pregnant women over the age of 25. There is also an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are more elevated than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Without sufficient lifestyle change, 1 in 3 people with pre-diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

There is no cure for diabetes as of yet, but the condition can be effectively managed with a variety of practices.

Untreated diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure and dialysis, heart attacks, strokes, amputations, nerve damage, sexual difficulties, foot ulcers or infections, depression, and anxiety.



  • Feeling excessively and frequently thirsty
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Weight loss (type 1)
  • Loss of muscle
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Slower wound healing
  • More frequent skin infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight gain (type 2)
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Leg cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diabetic ketoacidosis can occur in type 1 patients, especially when they miss insulin doses or have another illness. Symptoms of this medical emergency are as follows and one should always seek medical advice if these symptoms occur:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive passing of urine
  • Altered consciousness
  • Coma


Hypoglycaemia occurs when blood sugar levels fall suddenly. It can be remedied by a boost of sugar (aka jellybeans or fruit). Symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Change in mood



  • Genetic predisposition
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Are over the age of 55 (type 2)
  • Obese/overweight
  • Are from a particular ethnic background: Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Indian, from Pacific Island, or Chinese for example
  • Women who had gestational diabetes when pregnant
  • Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • People with a high sugar intake (diet)
  • People who are physically inactive
  • People with high blood pressure
  • Pregnant women



Most people with type 1 and 2 diabetes will present with symptoms. Diabetes is diagnosed when:

  • Symptoms are present and a random non fasting blood glucose level is equal to or greater than 11.1mmol/L.
  • A fasting blood glucose level is equal to or greater than 7.0mmol/L.
  • A HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin) blood test returns readings of blood sugar levels being equal to or greater than 6.5mmol/L.
  • A Glucose Challenge Test (GCT) is a screening test where blood is taken for glucose measurement 1 hour after a glucose drink. If this test is abnormal, then an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OCTT) is done. Blood samples are taken before the drink, then 1 hour after, and then 2 hours after. Diagnosis occurs when the blood glucose level is equal to or greater than 11.1mmol/L after an OCTT.
  • There has been no symptoms and 2 abnormal blood glucose tests recorded on separate days.



There is no cure for diabetes but there are various treatments depending on the type and severity of the condition. These treatments include:

  • Daily insulin injections, or use of an insulin pump
  • Diet regulation
  • Increasing the amounts of ‘slow’ carbohydrates in the diet which take longer to be absorbed by the body
  • Monitoring glucose levels several times a day via testing blood droplets in a glucose meter
  • Physical activity and exercise
  • Medications
  • Weight management
  • Quitting smoking
  • Quitting alcohol
  • Joining a support group
  • Regularly attending check ups







  • Gymnema Sylvestre aka Miracle Fruit: The Hindi name for this plant translates to ‘sugar destroyer’. It is one of the most powerful plants for blood sugar control and works by stimulating the production of insulin.
  • Aloe Vera: This plant helps improve blood glucose levels, decreases blood lipids (fats), decreases swelling, and increases the rate of wound healing.
  • Bilberry: Studies show that a compound in Bilberries, (anthocyanosides), promotes blood vessel strength, and has protective properties against retinal damage in people with diabetes. Other health benefits of this plant include: improved circulation, lower blood sugar levels, and prevention of cell damage.
  • Bitter Melon: Also known as Bitter Gourd, or Karela, this vegetable is the edible part of the plant Momordica Charantia. This plant contains at least 3 active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, vicine, and polypeptide-p. Charatin is known to have a blood glucose lowering effect, while polypeptide-p is an insulin-like compound that can act as a replacement. It also contains a lectin that lowers blood glucose levels by suppressing appetite.
  • Cinnamon: Clinical studies have shown that cassia cinnamon improves both blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes, and reduces risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A daily intake of this herb has been seen do reduce glucose, triglyceride, ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. Other studies suggest that it may increase insulin sensitivity, therefore treating and reversing type 2 diabetes.
  • Fenugreek: The seeds of this plant are often ground and used as a spice in many curries, while the leaves are sold as vegetables. The seeds are high in soluble fibre, which lowers blood sugar by slowing down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Studies have also shown these seeds to lower blood glucose levels and improve glucose tolerance.
  • Ginger: This herb has been known to improve long term glucose control, lower glucose production, increase the uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin, and protect against cataracts which are a complication related to long term diabetes.
  • Okra: The insoluble fibre in this plant is believed to help stabilize blood glucose levels by slowing the rate at which the sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract.
  • Garlic: This herb is thought to reduce blood glucose, increase secretion and slow the degradation of insulin.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in people with diabetes. This deficiency can increase high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
  • Chromium: Chromium is essential in the metabolism of carbohydrates; therefore increasing chromium levels helps to lower blood glucose levels. Too much may make the blood sugar too low.
  • Prickly Pear cactus: This plant works in lowering blood glucose levels because it contains components that work similarly to insulin. It is also high in fibre and so also slows the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestines.
  • Gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA): Research suggests that people with diabetes are deficient in GLA. It is also suggested that the supplement can reduce and prevent nerve pain associated with diabetes.
  • Ginseng: This herb slows carbohydrate absorption, increases cell’s abilities to use glucose, and increases the production of insulin from the pancreas.
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid: ALA is a powerful antioxidant with the ability to: reduce oxidative stress, lower fasting blood sugar levels, and decrease insulin resistance. This acid has the potential to lower blood sugar levels to dangerous levels so use with caution.
  • Green tea: The main antioxidant in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This antioxidant is known to lower cardiovascular disease risk, prevent type 2 diabetes, improve glucose control, and improve insulin activity.
  • Resveratrol: This is a chemical found in wine and gapes. In animal tests and studies it helps to prevent high blood sugar, and reduce oxidative stress.
  • Chamomile: This herb works by lowering blood sugar levels and taking the sugar out of the blood and storing it in the liver.
  • Cumin: This herb lowers both blood sugar and cholesterol, and has a positive effect on the damaging advanced glycation end products (AGE’s) in diabetes.
  • Red onion: Studies suggest that consuming red onion daily lowers blood glucose levels. This study also suggests adding onion to meals helps to lower blood sugar after a meal.
  • Gingko Biloba: This herb stimulates the production of insulin in the body. It also effectively keeps the pancreas healthy and functioning, resulting in a resistance to type 1 diabetes.
  • Curry leaves: There are several minerals in this herb that aid to balance and maintain healthy blood glucose levels. It also influences carbohydrate metabolism and reduces the risk of oxidative stress.
  • Turmeric: The main compound of turmeric is curcumin and has been shown to boost blood glucose control and prevent diabetes.
  • Holy basil: This herb aids to increase the secretion of insulin and balance blood glucose levels.



Some of these herbs or supplements may cause adverse reactions in some individuals, or interact negatively with other medicines. You should always consult with a doctor or physician prior to taking any new herb or supplement.