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Type 2 Diabetes: Supplements Overview

5. What is known about the safety and effectiveness of these six dietary supplements as CAM treatments for diabetes? continued...

c There is some use, reported from outside the United States, of ALA delivered intravenously (IV). These trials are not discussed in this report.

Summary of the research findings
The evidence on ALA for type 2 diabetes and obesity is limited. There are a number of small studies in animals and in people that have shown hints of beneficial effects. In a few of these studies, some possible benefit from ALA was seen in glucose uptake in muscle; sensitivity of the body to insulin; diabetic neuropathy; and/or weight loss. More research is needed to document whether there is any benefit of ALA in diabetes and to better understand how ALA works.

Side effects and possible risks
While ALA appears to be safe for the general adult population, people with diabetes need to know that ALA might lower blood sugar too much, and thus they would need to monitor their blood sugar level especially carefully. ALA may also lower blood levels of minerals, such as iron; interact with some medicines, such as antacids; and decrease the effectiveness of some anti-cancer drugs. Other possible side effects of ALA include headache, skin rash, and stomach upset.

Chromium
Chromium is a metal and an essential trace mineral. Chromium is found in some foods, such as meats, animal fats, fish, brown sugar, coffee, tea, some spices, whole-wheat and rye breads, and brewer's yeast. It is marketed in supplement form (capsules and tablets) as chromium picolinate, chromium chloride, and chromium nicotinate.

Summary of the research findings
There are scientific controversies about the use or need for chromium supplementation by persons with diabetes. First, it is difficult to determine, including through tests, whether a person has a chromium deficiency. Second, it is not known whether it is beneficial to take chromium supplementation in diabetes, and there is a lack of rigorous basic science studies to explain or support any evidence of benefit. In sum, there is not enough evidence to show that taking chromium supplements is beneficial for diabetes.

Side effects and other risks
At low doses, short-term use of chromium appears to be safe in the general adult population. However, chromium can add to insulin in its effects on blood sugar; this might cause the blood sugar to go too low. Possible side effects at low doses include weight gain, headache, insomnia, skin irritation, sleep problems, and mood changes. High doses can cause serious side effects. The foremost concern for persons with diabetes who use chromium is the development of kidney problems. Other possible effects include vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract, and worsening of any behavioral or psychiatric problems.

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