Wil Dubois

Got questions about life with diabetes? So do we! That's why we offer our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine, hosted by veteran type 1, diabetes author and community educator Wil Dubois.

This week, Wil's talking snake oil.... you know, all those supposed miracle cures and magic elixirs that can fix our diabetes treatment for good (NOT). There are so many out there, and maybe not all of them are 100% bogus, but how are we supposed to know?

We just marked April Fool's Day, but rest assured: the Snake Oil Struggle is real.

{Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Mandy, type 2 from Kansas, writes: I get all kinds of emails promising improvements in my diabetes, or outright cures. Online you see people saying that the big drug companies suppress simplAsk-DMine_buttone (non-patented) treatments to preserve their profits. How can I tell what’s Snake Oil and what might really work? I don’t want to take prescription drugs, but I don’t want to be made a fool of.

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Funny you should say that. I spent yesterday in bed, with the phone off the hook, the computer turned off, the shades drawn, and the covers pulled up over my head. 

Right, yesterday was April Fool's Day.

And while I regard myself as having a great sense of humor, I have no stomach for practical jokes, particularly the small-scale kind played on friends and family once a year on the First of April.

That said, I will confess to having a small appreciation for the larger seasonal media hoaxes, if for no other reason than to use them as a barometer for judging the IQ health of the population. Yes, the media in Western Society has a time-honored tradition of publishing faux news stories on April 1st, generally fessed up to in the next day’s publication or broadcast. There’s a great list of historical highlights here. Don’t miss the public-foolin’ stories about Viagra for Hamsters, Taco Bell Corp buying the Liberty Bell, and the Swiss Mountain Cleaners.

Lucky for me, this year my column falls the day after April Fool's, so I didn’t have to weigh media tradition versus my personal dislike for pranks. Because while it might be tempting to announce that diabetes had been cured by mixing Swiss cocoa with Viagra and Taco Bell hot sauce (see yesterday's post), if I really fooled even one person for even one minute, I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt.

Some things in the universe just aren’t funny.

But while I won’t fool you about the future of your diabetes (you can live long and healthy, but it will be a boatload of hard work) there are others out there who aren’t so kind.

People have always been gullible, hence the success of April Fool's Day, and I personally suspect that there is something about our computerized world that makes us even more vulnerable to being fooled. And that gets us to diabetes snake oil. The grandfather of all diabetes bloggers, David Mendoza, wrote about what he called “internet hucksters” back in ‘06. And since then the growth in fooling patients has become so widespread that the FDA has had to jump in, and so has the Better Business Bureau.

Still, while most of the folks selling miracle cures online are making fools of their customers, I’m open-minded. Aspirin is just willow bark, Metformin is just French Lilac. Hell, most meds are plants. Why not something unexpected like four-leaf clover extract (it costs so much because the extract of three-leaf clovers is not as effective). Truth Alert: That was snark, not a prank. Plus, we humans are varied enough that it’s always possible that something growing in the backyard might genuinely help a small percentage of people. Who knows? You might be one.

So, bottom line, so there might be something out there that will help. But here’s what drives me absolutely freakin' bonkers, and it happens about twice a month. Step into my office:

Me: Good to see you again. Let’s just make sure your chart is still up to date. You’re taking 850 milligrams of Metformin twice a day plus Trulicity once a week, right?

Patient: No, I stopped those and I starting taking ___________ (insert latest funky herb here) instead. I’ve never felt better in my life. In fact, I almost cancelled my appointment because there’s really no reason for me to see you any more.

Me: Well… That’s, uh… Wonderful. And how have your blood sugars been looking?

Patient (who doesn’t look like a fool): Oh, I’m not testing. But I can feel my blood sugar when it’s high.

Then I make them check their blood sugar. Never once has it been a pretty number. 

Snake Oil pillSo it’s the blind acceptance of something improbable that I’m closed-minded to, not to trying something from the Internet. If you want to try something funky, be my guest. Hell, I’m the guy who buys wine based on how pretty the label is, so who am I to judge? But if my choice doesn’t play out well, and it tastes like crap, I don’t drink the whole bottle. Nor do I come home and throw away the bottles I’ve been drinking ‘cause their labels aren’t as pretty as the one I just found.

Most of these crap products won’t hurt you. Probably. They tend to be herbs and homeopathic compounds. My view is you would be better off spending your money on a traditional vice like cocaine, hookers, or gambling—or wine with pretty labels—but it’s your money, so you are free to waste it in any way you choose. But you do need to safeguard your health while trying an alternative medicine, and you do that not by stopping your fingerstick tests, but by ramping them up instead.

So I'd suggest that before starting any "miracle cure," do one week of intensive fingersticks, at least six a day, to establish a baseline. Then start your new cure method, without stopping your old treatment. Conduct a second week of heavy blood sugar testing. And if, no foolin’, your blood sugar is coming down, go ahead and taper your prescription meds down. Of course, you should call your doc and tell him or her what you are doing. Expect to be scolded. But, if you are tracking the evidence, hold your ground.

And once fully off your old therapy, if your sugars continue to look good, then, well, I’m happy for you. But you still need to test to make sure the effect endures. And you still need your quarterly A1C tests. Even diabetes “cured” by radical weight loss surgery has a tendency to come back. The underlying processes of diabetes are progressive. What works today will rarely work tomorrow.

The Brits, possibly the home island of April Fool’s Day, said it best: “A cure for diabetes is the Holy Grail for patients, healthcare resources and budgets, not to mention some pharmaceutical companies. However, at this stage a widespread and effective cure does not exist.”

I like the fact that they quite logically point out that it’s not just we PWDs who want a cure, so to do governments (who pay billions in diabetes health costs through programs for the elderly and poor), and greedy companies. I know what you fringies are gonna say: Some hidden readily available element is the cure. Trust me on this, if cinnamon cured diabetes, Pfizer would find a way to patent cinnamon. (I have nothing against Pfizer, it was just their turn to be picked on according to my Big Bad Pharma day calendar.)

Before you buy, do your homework. The truth is there are no secrets. The world is too open. If something is true, there will be more than one website talking about it. If you think a compound might help, look to other websites to see what people are saying about it. 

Trust me on this, our own Mike Hoskins keeps very close tabs on what’s happening in the diabetes universe. He has bloodhound DNA. If they come up with a cure, he wants to report it before anyone else does. It’ll be right here at DiabetesMine. If you read about a cure anywhere else, be pessimistically optimistic. If you read about a cure here, believe it.

Just so long as you read it on April 2nd.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.