Complementary and alternative medicine includes health treatments that are not part of standard Western medical practice. The category encompasses a variety of disciplines that include everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes.
But are the claims about various products and therapies accurate? Here are some important things you should know about diabetes and alternative treatments that involve diets and supplements.
What Are Some Alternative Therapies Suggested for Treating Diabetes?
- Chromium has been widely publicized as therapy to improve diabetes control. Although there are several studies that support a role for chromium as beneficial in diabetes, other studies do not confirm this. Currently there are no recommendations for its use in diabetes management.
- Magnesium has been studied for years as a form of therapy to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. A lack of magnesium has been associated with insulin secretion abnormalities and has been associated with diabetes complications.
- Vanadium is derived from plant sources and has been shown in a few studies to increase a person's sensitivity to insulin. Thus far, no recommendations exist for supplementation to be given to people with diabetes.
The following plant foods have been found to help people with type 2 diabetes.
- Brewer's yeast
- Broccoli and other related greens
- Fenugreek seeds
Most plant foods are rich in fiber, which is beneficial for helping control blood sugar levels.
There are few or no clinical trials with promising results for many of the other herbs being proposed for diabetes, such as garlic, ginger, ginseng, hawthorn, or nettle. If you have diabetes and are considering taking any of these herbal substances, talk to your doctor first.
Alternative Weight Loss Products for Diabetes
Since weight and diabetes are linked, many people with diabetes turn to alternative therapies that claim to help with weight loss, including:
- Camsogia Garcinia (hydroxycitric acid)
- Momordica charanta
- Sauropus androgynus
- Aristolochic acid
In addition, transdermal (skin patch) systems as well as oral sprays have been developed to purportedly reduce appetite and facilitate weight loss. One patch system uses homeopathic amounts of 29 different compounds to reduce appetite, but no published literature on its efficacy is available.
Concerns About Herbal Safety
In 2003, ephedrine-- also known as ma huang -- became the first herbal stimulant ever banned by the FDA. A popular component of anti-obesity over-the-counter drugs, ephedrine was found to have some benefits. However, the evidence of its ability to cause harm was far more compelling. In high doses, it has been known to cause insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep), high blood pressure, glaucoma, and urinary retention. This herbal supplement has also been associated with numerous cases of stroke.
Chitosan is derived from seashells and has the ability to bind to fat and prevent its absorption. Although it is purported to facilitate weight loss, available studies have not been encouraging.
The other so-called "obesity remedies" listed have not been rigorously studied and those that have yielded disappointing results.
Also, a recent survey of herbal preparations for obesity found that many preparations contained lead or arsenic and other toxic metals. Some also contain other undeclared ingredients.
Before Using Herbal Products for Diabetes
When considering treating diabetes with an herbal product, you should:
- Discuss any drugs you are thinking of using, including herbal products, with your doctor before taking them.
- If you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, or skin rashes, stop taking the herbal product and notify your doctor immediately.
- Avoid preparations made with more than one herb.
- Beware of commercial claims of what herbal products can do. Look for scientific-based sources of information.
- Select brands carefully. Only purchase brands that list the herb's common and scientific name, the name and address of the manufacturer, a batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines, along with potential side effects.