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
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
- Pregnant or lactating
- On low-calorie diets
The benefit of megadoses of vitamins is
highly uncertain, according to the ADA's January 2003 position
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
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
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."