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Herbs, Vitamins, and More for Diabetes

Looking for more than traditional western medicine to treat your diabetes? Here are some suggestions, but remember to consult your doctor first.

Can Herbs and Diabetes Drugs Mix?

Safety doesn't seem like a big issue with some of the herbs that might be helpful in diabetes. Garlic and fenugreek, of course, are common culinary seasonings. And the studies on herbs examined in the Diabetes Care review showed no serious side effects.

Nevertheless, it may be possible for complementary treatments to have bad interactions with prescription diabetes drugs. For example, if they actually work, your blood sugar levels could drop too far, causing hypoglycemia. For that reason, Geil tells people trying out supplements to test their blood sugar more often than they would otherwise. And try only one herb at a time. That way, you'll be better able to judge whether it seems to be working for you.

George B. Kudolo, PhD, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, is currently researching the interaction between three prescription diabetes drugs -- Glucotrol, Actos, and Glucophage -- with ginkgo biloba, in a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

In an earlier study, Kudolo found that ginkgo may be helpful to people with diabetes because it thins the blood, which can lower blood pressure and improve circulation. High blood pressure and poor circulation often accompany type 2 diabetes.

"We found that ginkgo was doing exactly the same thing that aspirin does," Kudolo says. Aspirin is known to be beneficial for people with heart disease or at risk for heart disease. Like aspirin, however, ginkgo may be dangerous when taken with prescription blood thinners.

Kudolo has also found that ginkgo can cause an increase in the production of insulin, although it apparently doesn't cause blood sugar levels to drop as a result. He suspects that the cause of this imbalance may interfere with the way some diabetes drugs work.

Vitamins and Minerals

The ADA recommends vitamin and mineral supplements for people with diabetes only if they may be deficient in them. For example, a daily multivitamin may be particularly helpful for those with diabetes who are

  • Elderly
  • Pregnant or lactating
  • Vegetarians
  • On low-calorie diets

The benefit of megadoses of vitamins is highly uncertain, according to the ADA's January 2003 position statement.

But it is important for your diet to contain all the vitamins you need. "I find, for most of my patients, it's very difficult for them to eat in the way I would love them to," Geil says. "I have no problems with a multivitamin and mineral supplement."

As for minerals, chromium has been much touted as a complementary diabetes treatment. The body needs this mineral to regulate blood sugar, but the ADA says taking a chromium supplement wouldn't do most people with diabetes any good. Research shows that chromium supplements can help those who have too little chromium, but most don't have a deficiency.

What's more, Geil says, "It's very difficult to determine chromium deficiency from lab work. We just don't have good testing for it right now."

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Normal
70-130
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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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