Dietary Supplements for Diabetes

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Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are very popular among Americans. That includes people with diabetes. More and more people with diabetes are turning to supplements for help with their disease.

However, there's not a lot of proof that supplements work for diabetes. That's because researchers have done very few large studies on them. There are some studies that suggest certain supplements might help.

Here's what you need to know about supplements that have become popular among people with diabetes:

Chromium

Chromium is a mineral. It's a natural part of many foods. These include fruits, vegetables, nuts and meats. Your body needs only a very small amount of chromium. It helps the body turn sugar into energy. Chromium also affects the amount of insulin the body makes.

This has led to claims that chromium supplements can help treat diabetes. Companies that make these products say they can help control blood sugar levels. However, a small number of studies done on chromium supplements did not find this to be true. Other studies are being done.

Chromium can cause stomach pain and bloating. Don’t take too much. Doing so could lead to kidney damage and skin problems. Follow the recommendation on the container, and always check with your doctor before taking chromium.

Chromium also can affect some drugs and vice versa. They include:

  • Beta blockers

  • Corticosteroids

  • Insulin

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

  • Prostaglandin inhibitors (such as ibuprofen and aspirin)

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is an herb. People often cook with it. It’s also a traditional medicine for diabetes in Asia. Dried fenugreek seeds are ground and taken by mouth. Or they can be made into a paste to put on the skin.

A few small studies found that it may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Scientists say bigger and better studies are needed to support these findings.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral. You can find it in whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. Your body needs it to use sugar as energy. People who do not have enough are at greater risk of diabetes.

Still, there is no proof that magnesium supplements can help treat diabetes. The long-term safety of these supplements is also unclear. Don’t take very large doses (more than 5,000 milligrams daily). It can be fatal.

Calcium and Vitamin B12

Metformin is a drug often used to treat diabetes. Research shows it may cause people to have trouble thinking. It also could cause you to not have enough vitamin B12. This can be bad for the brain. Some studies suggest that you can ease these problems by taking B12 and calcium supplements. Keep in mind that these are small studies. They do not prove that metformin causes problems with the brain. It also is not clear whether calcium or vitamin B12 reverses any effects the drug might have.

Do not take too much calcium. It can keep your body from absorbing iron and zinc. Ask your diabetes doctor how much calcium and vitamin B12 should take.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

The body makes ALA. It is an antioxidant. That's a substance that helps prevent damage to cells. ALA can help with blood sugar control. Still, it’s not clear whether ALA supplements help people with diabetes.

Studies show they do not protect against eye problems that can develop from diabetes. Research also does not prove that ALA helps the body use insulin. The effects of taking ALA supplements long-term are unknown.

Omega-3s

People with diabetes often have high levels of triglycerides. That's a type of fat in the blood. People with diabetes also tend to have low HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol) and high LDL levels (the bad kind of cholesterol). Studies show that small doses of omega-3 fatty acid supplements help improve these levels. Studies have not shown that omega-3s help people with diabetes control their blood sugar.

Medical Reviewers: Niya Jones, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Apr 6, 2014

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Medical References

  1. Herbs, Supplements and Alternative Medicines. American Diabetes Association. Feb 20, 2014. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/medication/other-treatments/herbs-su...
  2. Metformin May Be a Drain on the Brain. American Diabetes Association. Jan 15, 2014. http://www.diabetes.org/research-and-practice/patient-access-to-research/metformin-may-be-a-drain-on...
  3. Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Jan 22, 2013. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/.
  4. Chromium. U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements. Nov 4, 2013. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Chromium-HealthProfessional/ - h6.
  5. Fenugreek. U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Apr 2012. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/fenugreek.
  6. Toxic Substances Portal - Chromium. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Mar 3, 2011. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=60&tid=17.
  7. Nithya Neelakantan, Madanagopal Narayanan, [...], and Rob M van Dam. Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) intake on glycemia: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Nutr J. 2014; 13: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901758/.

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