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Type 2 Diabetes: Supplements Overview

1. What is diabetes? continued...

Some people develop a condition called insulin resistance before they develop type 2 diabetes. When insulin resistance is present, the body does not respond properly to the insulin it has released to lower blood glucose. So, the pancreas releases more insulin to try to keep up with the excess glucose. If the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, over time this leads to type 2 diabetes. Obesity, aging, and lack of exercise can all play a role in developing insulin resistance and heightening the risk for diabetes.

To find out more about diabetes and related conditions, contact the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.

2. How is diabetes managed in conventional medicine?

In conventional medicine'sb approach, people with diabetes learn to keep their blood glucose in as healthy a range as possible. They do this by following a healthy food plan, being physically active, controlling their weight, and testing their blood glucose regularly. Some people also need to take medicine, such as insulin injections or prescription diabetes pills. When lifestyle changes and medical treatment are combined to rigorously maintain and control blood sugar in the normal range, this approach to managing type 2 diabetes minimizes the serious complications of the disease. This enables patients to lead productive, full lives.

b Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as nurses, physical therapists, and dietitians. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used along with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine. Some practitioners of conventional medicine are also practitioners of CAM.

3. What CAM therapies are discussed in this report?

There are many different CAM therapies used for diabetes and its complications, and it is beyond the scope of this report to discuss them all. Scientific information on any CAM therapy for diabetes can be sought in the PubMed database on the Internet and from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse (for both, see "For More Information"). Overall, there have been few rigorous studies published on the use of CAM approaches for type 2 diabetes. Most of the literature has looked at herbal or other dietary supplements, which reflects the tradition in certain whole medical systems of using plant products with claimed effects on blood sugar. This report focuses on six of the dietary supplements that people try for diabetes: alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), chromium, coenzyme Q10, garlic, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

About Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements were defined in a law passed by Congress in 1994. A dietary supplement must meet all of the following conditions:

  • It is a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet, which contains one or more of the following: vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; or any combination of the above ingredients.

  • It is intended to be taken in tablet, capsule, powder, softgel, gelcap, or liquid form.

  • It is not represented for use as a conventional food or as a sole item of a meal or the diet.

  • It is labeled as being a dietary supplement.

Other important information about dietary supplements:

  • They are regulated as foods, not drugs, so there could be quality issues in the manufacturing process.

  • Supplements can interact with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, and other supplements.

  • "Natural" does not necessarily mean "safe" or "effective."

  • Consult your health care provider before starting a supplement, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, or considering giving a supplement to a child.
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