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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.

Herbal Potential continued...

In the meantime, remember: If you do try any of these, it's important that you share this information with your health-care provider.

"I always partner up with my patients and let them tell me what they're interested in, and then we have an open discussion," says Patricia Geil, a dietitian in Lexington, Ky., and spokeswoman for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Clark's view is essentially the same. "My approach with patients is they're free to give it a try," he says -- provided that it's safe to take.

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.

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