9 blood sugar strategies I like better than metformin

I took metformin for a week — and felt like I’d been pummeled with a sledgehammer.

I don’t have diabetes, so why did I try it?

Well, as I explained in part one of this post, I have a genetic predisposition for both prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes, and I’m getting older. The research I did indicated that metformin could truly be a wonder drug that could impact my disease risk and signs of aging. So I gave it a go.

However, I quickly changed my mind. For starters the nasty side effects — including weight gain, nausea and fatigue, just to name a few — were quite unpleasant. But I also began to wonder…

Although metformin may be an effective way to reduce blood sugar, does it do a better job than lifestyle interventions?

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Drugs or lifestyle changes?

A study by The Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group showed that lifestyle changes resulted in a 58 percent reduction in the development of type 2 diabetes, while use of metformin alone only reduced diabetes incidence by a mere 31 percent. No nasty side effects come along with lifestyle changes.

Was I disappointed that metformin wasn’t the easy answer I thought it might be to prostate cancer prevention, improving insulin sensitivity and anti-aging? A little, but I’ve always been way into exercise and nutrition. So, I’m just doubling down on those key factors despite my genetics working against me.

I’m also adopting a bunch of other strategies to help keep my blood sugar under control going forward. Here are some suggestions you may also want to try:

  1. Reduce your alcohol intake. Reducing alcohol helps the liver better metabolize sugars and keep blood glucose at a healthier level. Basically, loading up the liver with too many tasks means it has to prioritize as it can’t do everything at once – and metabolizing alcohol usually takes precedence leading to increased insulin and glucose levels.
  2. Take apple cider vinegar before meals. Before each meal, stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (ACV) into a glass of water and down it. The acidic acid in vinegar disrupts the enzymes that digest starch in carbs, which means the starch is not digested (and converted to sugar) and blood glucose (sugar) levels are kept low. A recent study in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice reported that consuming vinegar before a meal can reduce post-meal glucose and insulin levels. Get the kind with the “mother.” I prefer Braggs. For a recipe that’s really easy to stomach, try making your own switchel with ACV and ginger.
  3. Try bitter melon supplement: Use of bitter melon (Momordica charantia) supplements, which contain the natural antidiabetic compounds charantin, polypeptide-p, and vicine, is a real plus in keeping type 2 diabetes at bay. Bitter melon helps control blood sugar levels as well as regulates blood pressure.
  4. Add curcumin/turmeric to everything possible. Use of curcumin/turmeric in food and/or as supplements can improve lipid (cholesterol, triglyceride) levels in individuals and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. The results of a recent international study reported that the presence of curcuminoids (bioactive ingredients in curcumin/turmeric) can reduce bad cholesterol levels and “contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular events” in individuals with types 2 diabetes and poor lipid control.

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Furthermore, recent literature review published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism titled, “Anti-Hyperglycemic Effect and Insulin Sensitizing Effects of Turmeric and Its Principle Constituent Curcumin,” adds support to the notion that the ancient Indian spice turmeric may provide an ideal drug alternative to treating and perhaps even preventing type 2 diabetes including:

  • Reduction in liver glucose production
  • Reduction in liver glycogen production
  • Stimulation of increased glucose uptake
  • Stimulating insulin secretion from pancreatic tissues
  • Improvement in pancreatic cell function,
  • Increasing insulin receptor β and reduction of insulin resistance

Other human clinical research conducted on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients revealed that curcumin had the following beneficial effects:

  • Glucose lowering effect
  • Improved beta cell function
  • Improved fatty acid oxidation and utilization

One of these studies is especially worth highlighting, as it found a turmeric extract was highly effective in preventing the development of diabetes within pre-diabetic subjects. The study published in 2012, in the American Diabetic Association’s own journal, Diabetes Care, and titled, “Curcumin extract for the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” found that the administration of six capsules containing 250 mg of curcumin daily for 9 months was 100% effective at preventing the development of type 2 diabetes in prediabetics. That’s a big call but even if it’s 25% effective then it seems worthwhile, given all the other positive health benefits of curcumin/turmeric.

  1. Modify your diet. Choose foods that are natural to minimally processed (and organic whenever possible), with an emphasis on healthy fats (e.g., extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts), primarily plant-based proteins with whole grains, and some low-fat dairy. Added sugars, simple carbs, and processed foods should be totally avoided if possible. There’s a lot of information online on eating to reduce blood sugar so search around. A lot has also been written lately about the benefits of a ketogenic diet for reducing blood sugar and treating type 2 diabetes. I tend to follow a mainly Mediterranean diet which is about 70% ketogenic.
  2. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Daily physical exercise is a given, including a combination of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and strength training. Strength (resistance) training, for example, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes to various degrees, depending on how much you do. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that pumping iron for 60 minutes per week can reduce diabetes risk by 12 percent, and it also improves insulin sensitivity. It makes sense that the more muscle you have the more room there is to store underutilized glucose. Cardio training also increases insulin sensitivity when done on a consistent basis. Try and walk or do some light exercise after meals as that helps to even out the blood sugar spikes. Having a high fiber carbohydrate snack before bed can also help even out nighttime blood sugar spikes. Try some unsweetened muesli and almonds or baked beans on toast – those seem to work for me.
  3. Try green coffee bean extract. Use of this supplement has been shown to help manage diabetes by reducing the accumulation of body fat and thus fight obesity. Research done in India on normal-weight participants with normal blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels also found that various doses of supplements containing green coffee extract all lowered blood sugar, with higher doses associated with larger drops.

A great deal of research has also examined the potential health benefits of standard coffee. A 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that death rates fell with each additional cup consumed daily. Meanwhile, a 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine review of 18 studies involving more than 457,000 people indicated that each additional daily cup of coffee was associated with a 7 percent drop in the relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  1. Experiment with intermittent fasting. I fast one day per week, which is just one technique of intermittent fasting. Fasting benefits the body in several ways, including reduced insulin resistance (which lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes), fights inflammation, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helps control weight, provides detox, may increase production of new nerve cells, and extends lifespan. Related: Fasting Benefits for Mens Health
  2. Take a low-dose aspirin. Consuming one 81-mg aspirin daily can disrupt the formation of blood clots and thus help ward off heart attack and stroke. Studies have also shown that aspirin helps prevent additional heart attacks and strokes in people who have already had one. And since having diabetes puts people at an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke, the American Heart Association recommends aspirin therapy for diabetics.

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So hype or wonder drug?

According to Dallas Clouatre, PhD, consultant in alternative and complementary medicine and the author of The Prostate Miracle and several other books on alternative and complementary medicine, “My thoughts on metformin are that it is interesting, but over-hyped… Downsides of metformin include reduced efficacy with advancing age, reduced efficacy with prolonged use, and GI [gastrointestinal]-tract issues in some individuals.” He goes on to say that “for me it is difficult to suggest the chronic intake of a drug that works by gumming up a natural process of the body.”

I hear what he’s saying but you can’t discount the fact that metformin is truly helping nearly 100 million people worldwide — but how many of these people would be better served by making massive and consistent lifestyle interventions — which in the case of type 2 diabetes have been shown to be significantly more effective than the drug? Probably tens of millions!

Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes can be achieved without the need for metformin. Although the drug does have some benefits, long-term use can lead to significant health issues that natural means of blood glucose management will not introduce into your life.

My decision to go on and quickly off the drug was personal, and based on my own experience and side effects. Look at all the benefits and risk factors before making up your own mind.

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Craig Cooper

By Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and TV host of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists". He is an “Ambassador” for both the global men’s health foundation “Movember” and 2XU, the performance sportswear company. He is the author of the Harper Collins book “Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick-Ass Life After 40“. Follow Craig on Instagram @craigcooperrrr and Facebook.