Retailers who focus on education will find themselves at the forefront of a growing category.
There’s no two ways about it: diabetes is a problem in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , 29 million Americans have diabetes, up from its previous estimate of 26 million in 2010. And the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine estimates that as many as 95 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes carry a type 2 diagnosis.
But diagnoses aren’t the only problem. Prediabetes, a condition marked by blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis, affects a whopping 79 million Americans, and half of all Americans over the age of 65. The CDC says that by incorporating lifestyle changes to improve overall health, 70-85 percent of these individuals with prediabetes can avoid a type 2 diagnosis in the next five years. And herein lies the opportunity for natural products retailers: lifestyle changes—diet, exercise, and, yes, nutritional supplements—have a huge role to play in positively affecting healthy blood sugar levels for much of the at-risk population.
“There are many real-world cases where diabetics have reversed their condition through enhanced nutrition, exercise and extensive weight loss,” explained Paul Marcellino, president of Oklahoma-based Dead Sea Moringa. “This makes sense, considering the number of people who become diabetic due to obesity, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits. When those factors are turned around, some people can control their blood glucose levels without any medical intervention.”
Additional good news, according to Caroline Cederquist, MD, author of The MD Factor Diet and founder of bistroMD, is that supplements that help manage healthy blood sugar levels also tend to counteract other issues negatively impacting good health. “Supplemented vitamins can help not only regulate blood sugar levels, but also help benefit other health factors like managing weight,”
she explained. “Natural approaches include eating foods that contain vitamin D or other nutrients; however, these people may still not be getting the correct daily dose of supplements. This is why taking supplements can be more efficient for regulating blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy lifestyle [than diet changes alone].”
Similarly, since the standard American diet, loaded with added sugars and other unhealthy attributes, tends to go hand in hand with prediabetes, anyone that lacks a healthy diet becomes a possible blood sugar supplement candidate. “Everyone can benefit from blood sugar management as part of their daily supplementation regimen, but those most in need are those who have starchheavy diets or diets lacking in vegetables and protein, those who are obese, and those who lead sedentary lifestyles,” said Ron Antriasian, vice president of sales and business development at Florida-based Life Extension.
In the end, natural diabetes treatment plans are still in their infancy, said Marcellino, so retailers can look forward to an influx of new products as the category matures.
Despite the fact that unhealthy blood sugar levels plague so many people, awareness on the part of the general public is severely lacking—especially when it comes to supplementation to support healthier levels. “Shoppers may not understand just how effective simple nutrition can be at combatting disease,” said Don Verhulst, MD, chief science officer at Michiganbased INBalance Health Corporation, who suggested demos, more aggressive advertising and in-store seminars to set the record straight.
“Two of the biggest misconceptions are, first, ‘I have a healthy diet and I exercise regularly, so I don’t need to worry about my blood sugar levels,’ and second, ‘If I had dangerously high levels of blood sugar, I’d be diabetic, and I’m not,’” said Antriasian. Retailers have an opportunity to address these misconceptions by educating customers on gluconeogenesis and the potential risk of being prediabetic, he said. “Even with a healthy diet and exercise, blood sugar levels can rise due to a number of factors, including via excess gluconeogenesis, whereby the liver produces glucose from protein, and via the rapid conversion of any starch, including whole grains, into glucose,” explained Antriasian. “We also need to make customers aware of the many dangers of high blood sugar, including its association with weight gain.”
According to Lou Paradise, president and chief of research at Topical Biomedics, Inc. in New York, retailers indeed have an opportunity to educate shoppers on the wide variety of behaviors that can contribute to developing diabetes, but also must stress that the actual steps required to achieve better health are really quite simple—as simple as focusing on basics like a healthy diet and exercise as well as avoiding white refined sugar and white refined flour.
This is a tactic employed by Barry Sherr, nutritionist, professional herbalist and vice president at Chamomille Natural Foods (Danbury, CT). “People don’t realize that a diabetic needs to cut way, way down on all carbs—not just refined carbs,” he explained. “Whole grains are still grains, and they may turn to glucose more slowly than refined grains, but they still turn to glucose.” Sherr recommends a Mediterranean diet to his shoppers battling high blood sugar, since it focuses on protein and vegetables.
Even when shoppers are aware of the benefits of lifestyle changes and supplementation, retailers still need to manage their expectations and be wary of making any health claims. “If your goal is to go off of your diabetes medication through healthy diet and exercise, [Dead Sea Moringa] can give you an advantage when trying to reach those goals,” said Marcellino. “You still have to do the work by controlling your daily diet and living a more active lifestyle. Those stipulations need to be made clear during the retail process.”
“Supplements are supplementary to a good diet, they’re not standalone,” Sherr agreed. “They can help, but they can’t cure a bad diet. Pounds of bad food are never going to be overcome by a couple of milligrams of a supplement. I always make sure my customers know that, too.”
Because diabetes and blood sugar are so closely related to other mechanisms in the body, the landscape for supplements that regulate blood sugar is varied, ranging from products made specifically for this market to those that cross into other categories and deliver multiple benefits.
“Moringa is a naturally growing plant that has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions for thousands of years,” explained Marcellino. “Plants like moringa have traditionally been afforded access only to the indigenous people who live near the plants’ natural habitats. Manufacturers are just now bringing these plants to other areas of the world due to today’s advanced harvesting, collection, processing and shipping methods.” According to Marcellino, Dead Sea Moringa—which contains more than 90 nutrients and a host of amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that offer numerous benefits—can help lower blood glucose levels and increase blood circulation.
“While other supplements are rich in one vitamin or nutrient, Dead Sea Moringa is nutritionally rich across the board,” he added, noting that the supplement helps diabetics control their blood glucose levels, and potentially move away from prescription medications by assisting with weight loss, controlling blood pressure and enhancing overall nutrition. Marcellino recommended retailers pair the supplement with green tea, magnesium and cinnamon—other natural products showing promise in the blood sugar arena—for an effective display.
INBars, from INBalance Health Corporation, were initially developed for glucose management and weight management, and carry organic and GMO-free labels. But according to the company, they make a great snack for anyone since most people can benefit from adding healthy, organic, high-fiber, low-sugar foods to their diet. Each bar boasts 10 grams of fiber and 10 to 11 grams of protein. They’re available in Cinnamon Swirl, Chocolate Butter Crunch, Strawberry Banana, Cherry Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge and Chocolate Mint varieties.
The most recent blood sugar introductions from Life Extension are Tri- Sugar Shield and GlycemicPro Transglucosidase. Tri-Sugar Shield contains sorghum bran extract, which balances the rate of sugar manufacture in the liver, mulberry leaf extract, which targets the alpha-glucosidase enzyme to regulate conversion of starch into glucose, and phloridzin, which helps block the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, said Antriasian. “GlycemicPro Transglucosidase limits the amount of sugar released from starch,” he added, “important given a huge source of blood sugar emanates from dietary starch, and many Americans have high-starch diets.”
While blood sugar management is a blossoming category in its own right, Antriasian recommended retailers merchandise with an eye towards generating awareness of its relationship to weight management, and in so doing, widen the potential audience for the supplements and open the doors for education. “Placement of our Tri- Sugar Shield, GlycemicPro Transglucosidase, Natural Absorption Control or CinSulin in the weight management section of the store would help raise awareness of the connection,” he explained, “and educate a broader audience in the important relationship between these two categories.”
Retailers who have customers already dealing with diabetes might want to point them in the direction of Topricin, a product patented for the topical treatment of pain associated with neuropathy—diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that can occur alongside diabetes, most often affects nerves in the legs and feet, according to Mayo Clinic. “When pain is healed, diabetics are more inclined to lead a more active, healthier lifestyle,” said Paradise. “Diabetics are an important segment for us, and we continually provide outreach and educational support to doctors, their patients and retailers in the battle to turn the diabetic epidemic around.”
Even retailers just getting involved in this category will find many supplements already on their shelves that can benefit healthy blood sugar. Cederquist specifically tests magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 levels in her patients. “These three nutrients are extremely powerful in their ability to fix your metabolism, making them most relevant to weight loss, and they help regulate blood sugar,” she explained. “Vitamin D can improve your sensitivity to insulin, and people who have higher blood levels of vitamin D are less likely to have diabetes.”
For Cederquist, the biggest opportunity for supplements in this category is their ability to help people reclaim good health and easily sustain a healthy lifestyle. “Having low blood sugar levels leads to lower energy levels. This may cause a false sense of hunger and increasing feelings of ‘needing’ to eat, which ultimately may result in weight gain and metabolic dysfunction,” she explained. “As we can see, having healthy blood sugar levels takes a little effort by taking the right supplements and the right amounts, but without it, we can see how unhealthy levels can lead to a downward spiral of other negative health concerns.”
As public awareness of blood sugar management gains traction among the many Americans affected by it, researchers are also dedicating time and resources to an enhanced understanding it plays in overall health.
A new study coming out of the American Academy of Neurology found that people with lower blood sugar levels were more likely to have better scores on memory tests. Researchers recruited 141 people with an average age of 63, who did not have diabetes or prediabetes, and who were in good overall health (people who were overweight, drank more than three and a half servings of alcohol per day, and those with memory or thinking impairment were not included in the study). They tested participants’ memory skills and blood glucose levels, and also performed brain scans to measure the size of the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays an important role in memory. When participants were administered a test in which they needed to recall a list of 15 words 30 minutes after hearing them, researchers found that those with higher sugar levels recalled fewer words. “These results suggest that even for people within the normal rage of blood sugar, lowering their blood sugar levels could be a promising strategy for preventing memory problems and cognitive decline as they age,” said study author Agnes Floel.
According to new research from the Endocrine Society, vitamin D acted in the brain can improve weight and blood glucose control in obese rats. The animals received nothing to eat for four hours, so they could have a fasting blood sugar measurement. Afterward, 12 rats received vitamin D dissolved in a solution acting as a vehicle for drug delivery. Another 14 rats received only the vehicle, thus serving as controls. One hour later, all rats had a glucose tolerance test, in which they received an injection of dextrose in their abdomen, followed by measurement of their blood sugar levels again. Compared with the control rats, animals that received vitamin D had improved glucose tolerance, and in a separate experiment, these treated rats also had greatly improved insulin sensitivity. “Vitamin D is never going to be the silver bullet for weight loss, but it may work in combination with strategies we know work, like diet and exercise,” said Stephanie Sisley, MD, the study’s principal investigator.
Traditional Chinese herbal medicines hold promise for slowing the progression from prediabetes to an official diabetes diagnosis, according to new research. During a recent double- blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 389 participants were randomly assigned to take either a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines or a placebo. For one year, subjects took capsules of either the Chinese herb mixture, called Tianqi, or the placebo three times per day before meals, and received glucose tolerance testing on a quarterly basis. The analysis found taking Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 percent compared with the placebo.
For more information:
Dead Sea Moringa, (855) 208-6302
INBalance Health Corporation, (269) 792-1977
Life Extension, (954) 766-8433
Topical Biomedics, Inc. (800) 959-1007