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Dietary Supplements for Diabetes

As the incidence of diabetes increases to epidemic proportions, people with diabetes are turning to alternative therapies to help manage this condition, despite the availability of numerous traditional therapies. Americans spent almost $34 billion out of pocket on complementary and alternative products, practitioner visits, and materials every year. It is important for health care practitioners not only to be aware of what dietary supplements their patients are taking, but also to understand how these supplements work and their possible side effects. Here are some of the best dietary supplements for diabetes.

1. Vitamin D

Is there a link between D and blood sugar control? Getting more than 500 international units of D daily could cut risk for developing diabetes by 13 percent. But benefits haven’t yet been proved for people who already have diabetes. Low vitamin D has been associated with poor control in early research, but it is not known yet if taking more helps. Still, there are good reasons to get enough D, including preventing brittle bones.

2. Alpha lipoic acid

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), also called lipoic acid or thioctic acid, is an antioxidant that works in a manner similar to the B complex vitamins, helping the body convert food into energy. ALA has been used with success for quite some time as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy. A series of clinical trials, called the Alpha-Lipoic Acid in Diabetic Neuropathy (ALADIN) trials, showed that both 600 and 1,200 mg/day of ALA given intravenously significantly improved certain symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

3. Chromium

Chromium is needed to help the body use glucose effectively. However, more research is needed to see if taking a magnesium supplement will help control blood sugar levels in people who are not magnesium deficient.

4. Cinnamon

Chinese medicine has been using cinnamon for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. It has been the subject of numerous studies to determine its effect on blood glucose levels. Cinnamon, in whole form or extract, helps lower fasting blood glucose levels. More studies are being done, but cinnamon is showing promise for helping to treat diabetes.

5. Magnesium

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.

6. Vitamin B-1

Vitamin B-1 is also known as thiamine. Many people with diabetes are thiamine deficient. This may contribute to some diabetes complications. Low thiamine has been linked to heart disease and blood vessel damage. Thiamine is water-soluble. It has difficulty getting into the cells where it’s needed. However, benfotiamine, a supplemental form of thiamine, is lipid-soluble. It more easily penetrates cell membranes. Some research suggests that benfotiamine can prevent diabetic complications.

7. Omega-3s

The good fats found in fish oil capsules and fish like salmon, trout, herring, and sardines have long been touted as heart healthy. That’s important for people with diabetes, who are at high risk for heart disease. Omega-3s may reduce inflammation, decrease off-rhythm heartbeats, and discourage artery clogging. In one review of 18 studies, people with diabetes who took fish oil supplements lowered levels of triglycerides significantly.

8. Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is used to treat diabetes-related conditions. There is a lot of data on its effectiveness as a treatment for diabetes in animal and lab studies. However, there is limited human data on bitter melon. There are not enough clinical studies on human. The human studies currently available are not of high quality.

Some of the products may have significant effect, but the variations in potency, safety, and efficacy of various over-the-counter preparations call for caution. Until clinical consensus is established, CAM should be used under medical supervision. Considering that only one third of people using natural herbs or supplements tell their physicians about it, it is crucial that clinicians include this topic in their consultation discussion.