- Used with treatment, certain supplements can be used to help manage diabetes symptoms.
- Supplements should not replace standard diabetes treatment. Doing so can put your health at risk.
- Make sure to speak with your doctor before taking supplements for diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes, but is becoming more common in children. This form of diabetes is caused when your body either resists insulin or doesn’t produce enough. It causes your blood glucose levels to be unbalanced.
There is no cure. However, many people are able to manage their blood glucose levels with diet and exercise. If not, a doctor can prescribe medications that can manage blood sugar levels. Some of these medications are:
- insulin therapy
- metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza, others)
A healthy diet, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are the first, and sometimes, most important part of diabetes treatment. However, when those are not enough to maintain your blood sugar levels, your doctor can decide which medications will work best for you.
Along with these treatments, people with diabetes have tried numerous herbs and supplements to improve their diabetes. These alternative treatments are supposed to help control blood sugar levels, reduce resistance to insulin, and prevent diabetes-related complications.
Some supplements have shown promise in animal studies. However, there is currently only limited evidence that they have the above mentioned benefits in humans.
It is always best to let the foods you eat provide your vitamins and minerals. However, more and more people are turning to alternative medicines and supplements. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, diabetics are more likely to use supplements than those without the disease.
Supplements should not be used to replace standard diabetes treatment. Doing so can put your health at risk.
It is important to talk to your doctor before using any supplements. Some of these products can interfere with other treatments and medications. Just because a product is natural does not mean it is safe to use.
A number of supplements have shown promise as diabetes treatments. These include the following.
Chinese medicine has been using cinnamon for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. It has been the subject of numerous studies to determine its effect on blood glucose levels. A 2011 study has shown that cinnamon, in whole form or extract, helps lower fasting blood glucose levels. More studies are being done, but cinnamon is showing promise for helping to treat diabetes.
Chromium is an essential trace element. It is used in the metabolism of carbohydrates. However, research on the use of chromium for diabetes treatment is mixed. Low doses are safe for most people, but there is a risk that chromium could make blood sugar go too low. High doses also have the potential to cause kidney damage.
Vitamin B-1 is also known as thiamine. Many people with diabetes are thiamine deficient. This may contribute to some diabetes complications. Low thiamine has been linked to heart disease and blood vessel damage.
Thiamine is water-soluble. It has difficulty getting into the cells where it’s needed. However, benfotiamine, a supplemental form of thiamine, is lipid-soluble. It more easily penetrates cell membranes. Some research suggests that benfotiamine can prevent diabetic complications. However, other studies have not shown any positive effects.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant. Some studies suggest it may:
- reduce oxidative stress
- lower fasting blood sugar levels
- decrease insulin resistance
However, more research is needed. Furthermore, ALA needs to be taken with caution, as it has the potential to lower blood sugar levels to dangerous levels.
Bitter melon is used to treat diabetes-related conditions in countries like Asia, South America, and others. There is a lot of data on its effectiveness as a treatment for diabetes in animal and lab studies.
However, there is limited human data on bitter melon. There are not enough clinical studies on human. The human studies currently available are not of high quality.
Green tea contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants.
The main antioxidant in green tea is known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Laboratory studies have suggested that EGCG may have numerous health benefits including:
- lower cardiovascular disease risk
- prevention of type 2 diabetes
- improved glucose control
- better insulin activity
Studies on diabetic patients have not shown health benefits. However, green tea is generally considered safe.
Resveratrol is a chemical found in wine and grapes. In animal models, it helps prevent high blood sugar. Animal studies have also shown that it can reduce oxidative stress. However, human data is limited. It is too soon to know if supplementation helps with diabetes.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient. It helps regulate blood pressure. It also regulates insulin sensitivity. Supplemental magnesium may improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
A high magnesium diet may also reduce the risk of diabetes. Researchers have found a link between higher magnesium intake, lower rates of insulin resistance, and diabetes.
As you can see from this list, that there are a number of natural supplements that can be used to manage diabetes. However, even for those in this list, it is important that you talk to your doctor before adding any supplement or vitamin to diabetes plan.
There are a number of popular supplements that can have negative interactions with diabetes medications and blood sugar. Zinc is one of these popular supplements that can affect your blood glucose levels negatively. Even those in this list that can help many with diabetes may still have a negative interaction with some of your medications.
You Asked, We Answered
- When shopping for supplements to help manage diabetes, what ingredients should I make sure to look out for and avoid?
Beware the addition of sugar in supplement formulations. Sugar comes in many names, such as: cane juice, dextrin, maltodextrin, dextran, barley malt, beet sugar, corn syrup, buttered syrup, fruit juice, turbinado, sorghum syrup, and maple syrup. These “hidden” sugars may result in increased blood sugar levels and can easily be avoided by closely reading the ingredient labels.- George Krucik, MD, MBA