Confused and overwhelmed person floating in an endless sea of colorful supplements

Diabetes Supplements— Helpful or Harmful?

If you use diabetes supplements, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that nearly half of people with diabetes use supplements, like herbs or spices, or meal additives and replacements. 

Understanding type 2 diabetes supplements

With promises to lower blood sugars or cure diabetes “naturally,” the supplement market has grown tremendously. However, are these claims true? And, at the basic level, are supplements beneficial? Or should you take caution in using them?

They are unregulated

First of all, it’s important to note that diabetes supplements are NOT regulated by the FDA. This means packaging, warning labels, product purity, manufacturing processes, dosing recommendations, etc. are not overseen. Some products have been found to have prescription medications in them. Others have been found to have very little product and high levels of harmful additives.

Also concerning is some supplements have been linked to kidney problems. People with diabetes are already at higher risk for poor kidney health (especially if diabetes is not managed well) - which means using some products may increase that risk.

The research is weak

Secondly, supplements do not have to prove that they work or are safe to be sold or marketed to you. In fact, it’s illegal for companies to claim their supplements cure diabetes, lower blood sugars, reduce your risk of diabetes complications, or work as a replacement to your diabetes medications. Those are scams and the FDA has issued a number of warnings about these types of companies and products.

The reason this type of marketing is illegal is that the vast majority of research on supplements is unfounded or weak. There is so much variability in supplement research. Some studies last only a few weeks, others a few months. Some studies looked at the impact of supplements in people with diabetes, whereas others looked only at healthy individuals. Additionally, dosing amounts, types of plants/products used, and delivery method (with or without food, taken as an injection, or by mouth, etc.) are often different from study to study. According to the National Institutes of Health, for most supplements, there isn’t evidence to support that they improve diabetes or diabetes complications.1

Two supplements with medical research support

There are some supplements that have medical research to back them up. Here are two to consider (talk to your medical team before you add any supplements to your care):

  • Vitamin B12: This is often used in combination with Metformin because Metformin can cause a B12 deficiency.
  • Alpha-Lipoic-Acid: This is used to decrease the symptoms of diabetes neuropathy (numbness/burning/tingling in your feet and legs).  It has been used in Germany for a number of years for this purpose.

How to stay safe using supplements

If you’re currently using supplements or considering the use of them, here are few ways to stay safe:

  1. Talk to your medical team, including your pharmacist, about which medications and supplements you’re taking.
  2. Look for the USP label on your supplement bottles. USP is an independent company that verifies that what’s in your supplement bottle, matches what’s on the label.
  3. Do your research. A great website to use is the National Institutes of Health website on Dietary and Herbal Supplements.

 

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