Diabetes and Dietary Supplements

Can dietary supplements really help control diabetes? If you are like many people with diabetes, you might wonder whether the ads you have seen or heard are true. Take a few minutes to learn how diabetes and dietary supplements can be a good mix -- or a set-up for trouble.

What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components such as herbs. You take them by mouth. Dietary supplements can sometimes provide extra nutrition to people with special health problems, including diabetes. But most people with diabetes will still have to take traditional prescription medicine to control their blood sugar levels.

How Dietary Supplements May Help Control Diabetes

So far, there is not enough research to support specific recommendations for diabetes and dietary supplements. Ongoing studies point to two minerals that may be linked to blood sugar control.

  • Chromium is needed to help the body use glucose effectively. But more research is needed to see if taking a magnesium supplement will help control blood sugar levels in people who are not magnesium deficient. Currently, there are no recommendations for its use in diabetes management.
  • Magnesium levels are often low in people who have problems with insulin secretion and in people with complications of type 2 diabetes. Whether magnesium dietary supplements can help relieve or reduce these problems is still unknown.

A few studies have shown that vanadium, a supplement that comes from plants, can increase a person's sensitivity to insulin. So far, there’s no recommendation for its use as a supplement for people with diabetes.

How Dietary Supplements Can Hinder Diabetes Control

If you aren’t cautious, diabetes and dietary supplements can be a dangerous mix. Here's why:

  • Supplements aren’t regulated the same way as food and drug products. Some supplements have been found to be contaminated with substances other than those stated on the label.
  • Some supplements may interact with medication or other supplements, such as herbs, increasing or decreasing their effects. St. John’s wort, for example, is known to have many drug interactions and should be avoided with many other medications.

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Deciding Whether to Use Dietary Supplements for Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association says there is no evidence that vitamin or mineral supplements will help people with type 2 diabetes who don’t have an actual deficiency.

Talk with your doctor. That's the first step in deciding whether or not to mix diabetes and dietary supplements. Discuss the possible benefits and risks of dietary supplements.

Your doctor or pharmacist can also check that any supplements you take will not interact dangerously with your medications.

Be sure to include any dietary supplements you take when listing your medications for any doctor or health care professional you see.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 15, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "What's in the Bottle? An Introduction to Dietary Supplements."

WebMD Medical Reference: "Diabetes: Alternative Medicine."

UpToDate.

National Institutes of Health: "Magnesium."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Chromium."

American Diabetes Association.

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