Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Diabetics Benefit From Supplements

Vitamins Reduce Rates of Colds and Other Infections for Those With Diabetes
By
WebMD Health News

March 3, 2003 -- Although the use of daily multivitamin supplements among well-fed people has long been debated, with studies providing mixed results, new research indicates that the over-the-counter pills can help people with diabetes dramatically reduce their risk of cold, flu, and other infections.

This study is among the first to look specifically at how vitamin supplements -- regularly consumed by about 40% of Americans -- impact immune function in those with type 2 diabetes, who are more susceptible to various viral and bacterial infections. Along with 51 diabetic patients, researchers also studied self-reported rates of infections in 79 people without diabetes. Everyone in the study was at least 45 years old.

Among all participants, 43% of those taking daily supplements reported getting sick during the study, compared with 73% of those getting a placebo. In those with diabetes, 93% taking a placebo got sick, compared with only 17% on the active supplements. However, in those without diabetes, there was no measurable difference between supplement- and placebo-takers.

"The take-home message of our finding suggests that vitamins may be helpful and they may not be, depending on who you are," says researcher Thomas A. Barringer, MD, research director at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. "If you have type 2 diabetes, there may be something in the vitamins that seems to replete nutritional deficiencies caused by the disease."

Researchers have long known that persons with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more prone to various infections because of impaired immunity.

"There are probably several factors," says Eugene Barrett, MD, PhD, president-elect of the American Diabetes Association. "High blood sugar seems to impede the way (infection-fighting) white blood cells work so they can't kill bacteria as well as when blood sugar is at normal levels. Studies find that controlling blood sugar makes a big difference in controlling infection."

Other research suggests that frequent urination causes diabetics to lose nutrients such as zinc and selenium -- key in keeping immunity strong. The supplements used in Barringer's study were higher-than-average in these nutrients, but still close to the formulas in most commercially available products.

Barrett tells WebMD that this study, published in the March 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, is a great first step in learning more about how vitamins may help people with diabetes reduce their risk of nagging infections such as colds, flu, and urinary tract and stomach infections. "But it's a small study, so it's too early to recommend that people with diabetes take daily vitamin supplements as a matter of policy. More study is needed."

That's because based on this study, there is still question about whether it's the disease itself or the overall dietary habits of the diabetics studied that played the key role in the dramatic results.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or 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.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
 
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
 
Woman serving fast food from window
Video
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Video
 
Middle aged person
Tool
are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
 

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Article
type 2 diabetes
Slideshow
 
food fitness planner
Tool
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture
Article