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Turmeric can be a multi-pronged natural treatment for diabetes. Curcumin in it can lower blood glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, balance lipid levels, and counter inflammation. Turmeric can also prevent diabetes complications like coronary heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetic neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy.
If you are looking for ways to manage your diabetes better, golden Asian spice and ayurvedic remedy turmeric may be just what you need. Whether you down it in meals, as golden milk, or in straight-up herbal remedies, there’s plenty turmeric can do to fight diabetes and possibly even prevent it.
Regular use of turmeric can prevent diabetes. Add it to food as a condiment or drink up turmeric tea.
Curcumin, a polyphenol and a major component of turmeric, plays a central role in much of the spice’s benefits against diabetes. It can help lower your blood glucose levels by bringing down glucose production in the liver (besides improving insulin sensitivity, a property detailed further in the next section). This glucose-lowering effect of turmeric/curcumin has been observed in human trials and studies on both diabetics and those with prediabetes.1 This is why turmeric is counted among effective natural glucose-lowering agents. Curcumin in turmeric also helps bring down levels of glycosylated hemoglobin, an indicator of how much in control your diabetes really is, besides helping lower blood sugar levels.
Turmeric oil can help inhibit glucosidase enzymes effectively. These enzymes help break down complex carbs like starch and glycogen into glucose. So inhibiting them retards glucose absorption and prevents spikes in blood glucose levels after meals, a phenomenon known as postprandial hyperglycemia. This is why glucosidase inhibitors are being explored in diabetes therapy. Turmeric can, therefore, help bring down postprandial hyperglycemia as well as insulin peaks you may experience after a meal.
Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. In this condition, cells in the muscles and liver respond poorly to insulin and do not take up enough glucose. As a result, the pancreas may produce more insulin to help use up the excess glucose. But since the cells remain resistant to insulin, over time, levels of both insulin and blood glucose become abnormally high. This may even damage the pancreas and reduce insulin production, leading to type 2 diabetes.
Turmeric helps in two ways. On the one hand, curcumin in turmeric helps stimulate glucose uptake by the body by lowering insulin resistance. On the other hand, it improves pancreatic cell function and stimulates insulin secretion. It also improves pancreatic cell function and reduces insulin resistance overall.
Diabetics are at a greater risk of heart disease since high blood glucose leads to multiple risk factors of heart disease. High blood glucose levels can cause a rise in reactive oxygen species (free radicals). These, in turn, oxidize fats in the cell membranes, damage cells, and even DNA, and set off inflammation, often damaging arteries and making them vulnerable to fat deposits or atheroma. When atheroma builds up in coronary arteries, it can lead to atherosclerosis and consequently heart attack.6 Diabetes can also affect the functioning of the liver and cause an imbalance in the cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which in turn can raise the risk of atherosclerosis. And atherosclerosis or the narrowing of the arteries is also linked with high blood pressure.
The antioxidant properties of turmeric are legendary, thanks to curcumin. Curcumin has been compared to some of the most potent antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C and beta-carotene. It can scavenge free radicals before they trigger a series of damaging reactions in the body. It can also reduce oxidative stress on the liver and balance the cholesterol levels and bring down the triglycerides.
Chronic inflammation plays a major role in the development of diabetes. If unchecked, it goes on to damage not just the heart but also nerves (neuropathy), the eyes (retinopathy), and the kidneys (nephropathy). Turmeric is known to help improve hormonal function and protect against inflammation via multiple mechanisms. It also helps prevent diabetic complications. Curcumin can influence insulin response pathways to bring down the blood glucose levels, block inflammatory signals, and reduce inflammation-causing proteins.
Approximately 50% of diabetics develop neuropathy, which results in pain in the limbs, numbness, tingling, or burning, and muscle cramps. In animal studies, curcumin has been found to reduce neuropathic pain by inhibiting the production of inflammatory molecules like TNF-alpha, nitric oxide, interleukin- 8 (IL-8), and interleukin-lβ (IL-Iβ) and by decreasing the nitrite levels in the brain.
About one-third of diabetics are eventually affected by kidney damage or diabetic nephropathy. An animal study has shown that curcumin improves kidney function, reduced the degree of kidney enlargement, and reversed the changes in the kidneys to some extent, probably due to its anti-inflammatory properties. What the study does highlight is that using curcumin in the early stages of diabetes can prevent kidney damage to a large extent.
Diabetic retinopathy, another complication of the condition where the retina is damaged and may even lead to blindness, can be treated with turmeric. Curcumin is known to raise the antioxidant levels in the eye, reduce inflammation, and prevent the growth of new blood vessels in the eye (retinal angiogenesis).
If you are prediabetic and trying to prevent it from progressing to full-blown type 2 diabetes, the results of one study in particular might interest you. Researchers gave a population with prediabetes a 9-month-long course of curcumin capsules or placebo capsules. A lower proportion of people in the curcumin group developed type 2 diabetes (T2DM) compared to those who had just a placebo. Taking curcumin also improved the function of beta cells in the pancreas and did not present any major side effects.
Turmeric also has hepatoprotective properties. This means it can protect your liver from oxidative damage and improve its functioning. Why is this important in the context of diabetes? Diabetes tends to increase your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In one animal study, diabetic subjects consuming curcumin in their diet for 8 weeks saw a decrease in liver weight and lowered excretion of creatinine, urea, inorganic phosphorus, and albumin – all of which indicate improved liver function. It also prevented liver fat accumulation and lowered insulin resistance. Turmeric also increases the antioxidant enzyme levels in the liver that help neutralize toxic byproducts of metabolism.
As a diabetic, you may face issues with slow wound healing. This is a result of the oxidative stress your body experiences and the prolonged inflammation in the system. Topical application of curcumin can help hasten wound healing due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can also ease any swelling.