Aloe vera for diabetes? This versatile natural plant is often used to soothe irritated skin or digestive problems, but a number of studies in animals and people are beginning to point to the ability of aloe vera dietary supplements to help control blood sugar levels. It appears to do so by reducing insulin resistance, which is the key problem in type 2 diabetics. The way aloe accomplishes these beneficial effects include cutting down inflammation and even the release of inflammatory mediators called cytokines in one type of fat tissue, e.g., in obese animals (Shin et al Immune Network 2011, 11:59-67).
In addition to the ability to help lower elevated blood sugar levels, aloe vera leaf gel may also help reduce high cholesterol in type 2 diabetics with high levels of that lipid in the bloodstream (Huseini et al 2012 Planta Med 78:311-6). High levels of bad cholesterol are a common problem for people with type 2 diabetes.
It does not stop there, though. In animal models of type 1 diabetes, aloe vera gel (30%) was able to reduce biological indicators of oxidative stress (free radicals) and dramatically improve antioxidant capacity in the heart tissue. In type 1 diabetes, the problem for people is autoimmune antibodies against the specialized cells in the pancreas that make insulin. So, type 1 diabetics can be normal weight or even thin and still be dependent on daily insulin shots to stay alive. Both types of diabetes can lead to heart problems, and anything that can boost protection against the effects of the high blood sugars and associated abnormal biochemistry in the body is potentially useful. This is especially true if the potential supplement is fairly benign and without serious side effects, compared with many conventional antidiabetic drugs.
Insulin itself, while a replacement treatment for type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics with failing pancreases, carries its own risks and problems. On an everyday basis, a big problem is overshooting on the amount of insulin needed to offset the carbohydrate in a meal, and thus causing dangerous drops in blood sugar way below normal. So, if any supplement can reduce how much insulin you have to take to keep your blood sugar in the normal range, the less you risk the overshoots. Of course, as with any natural or drug treatment, you need to work with your own doctor to manage your specific medical situation. You don't want to be adjusting your own insulin or antidiabetes drugs on your own - that could cause trouble by itself. But, working with your doctor, you may be able to stabilize your blood sugar control and lessen the risk of wide swings into bad highs and lows. Aloe vera is just one of many natural product tools that might help you.