Diabetes - The Medical Perspective
You don't have to look far to find advertisements hyping claims for dietary supplements. Anything from vitamins and minerals to
herbal remedies and even acupuncture and meditation are claimed to treat a host of health problems. Websites, radio and magazines
advertise products suggesting an improvement in diabetes control. These products are known as complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM). Millions of people take some form of CAM daily, but are they safe and is there any benefit for diabetes treatment?
Product manufacturers, not the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are responsible for the products' safety and
assuring claims are not false or misleading. A manufacturer can describe how a supplement affects bodily functions, but cannot state
the supplement is used to prevent, treat or cure any disease. For example, a product manufacturer might state chromium is needed for
the metabolism of carbohydrates and therefore may lower blood glucose. The manufacturer must include a disclaimer stating "this
statement has not been evaluated by the FDA and this product is not intended as a prevention, treatment or cure for any disease." So,
the first challenge is to decide if the health claim is true, may be true, or likely not true.
Researchers are studying many dietary supplements to determine their benefit in improving glucose control in diabetes. Alpha lipoic
acid, cinnamon, chromium, ginko biloba, ginseng, resveratrol and vitamin D have all been suggested to have a positive effect on glucose.
However, at the present time no dietary supplements including vitamin/mineral supplements or herbal remedies are recommended for the
prevention or treatment of type 2 diabetes, due to a lack of well-designed clinical research studies. For specific supplements and their
link to diabetes, go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, found at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/diabetes/supplements.
A common mistake is to assume that because a product is a "natural" product it is a safe product. Whether from a natural or
synthetic source, if a product has the potential to affect bodily functions or interfere with other medications it should be treated as
a drug. Some dietary supplements have the potential to cause blood glucose to drop too low when it is taken with insulin or certain
diabetes medications, or change the effectiveness of other medications. There is also the potential for kidney disease risk, according
to the NIH.
Despite any scientific evidence of glucose lowering benefit, many individuals still choose to take a variety of dietary supplements.
To lessen the potential of negative side affects all dietary supplements should be included in your list of medications including
dosage, duration of therapy, and indication for use. To ensure a supplement meets standards for strength and purity make sure it has a
USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) label on the product.
Before ever starting a nutritional supplement or alternative treatment of any kind discuss any potential interactions or problems
with a pharmacist and your health provider.
Diabetes and Food
Dietary supplements of any kind are not a replacement for the conventional treatments of any chronic disease. Diabetes is no
exception. The conventional treatment for type 2 diabetes is eating a healthy diet and being as physically active as individually
appropriate. For many, treatment also includes taking a diabetes medication or medications in the form of a pill or insulin
Can food be a "supplement"? There are certain products that we may see as "food" that the government sees as "supplement". These
might include nutrition drinks, nutrition bars, or even diabetic cookies or brownies. If you find these items separate from "regular"
food in the grocery store, they are classified as a supplement and not as food, and are regulated as a supplement.
Does someone with diabetes need food labeled "for diabetes"? No. You don't need "diabetic" food or special diabetic food
supplements. Lower carbohydrate products may be worked into your meal plan, but they are not needed. Read labels and work with your
health care team to find the right foods for your healthy lifestyle.