The mainstays of diabetes treatment are diet and lifestyle changes and blood sugar-lowering medications. However, many people with diabetes also turn to nutritional supplements, looking for additional help with their condition. A new review published in Current Diabetes Reports assessed studies of several popular dietary supplements for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Among the most promising are vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), vitamin C, and alpha lipoic acid (ALA), while several others deserve further investigation.
A complex condition deserves comprehensive treatment
Type 2 has become increasingly common in Western countries. This form of diabetes frequently results from sustained high levels of insulin in the bloodstream as a result of chronic exposure to blood sugar-raising foods, such as refined sugar and other processed foods. Over time, the cells in the body become less sensitive to insulin, a condition called insulin resistance.
Diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, leading to heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and circulation problems.
What works, what doesn’t
The new study reviewed articles that evaluated the effect of various nutritional supplements for diabetes published over the last three years. It is never advisable to add a new supplement to your routine or make changes to your medication without discussing it with your doctor.
Their review of studies showed an association between certain nutrients and improved diabetes-related symptoms:
Vitamin C may help manage blood sugar and blood fat levels. Most people seem to safely tolerate less than 10 grams per day.
Vitamin E and CoQ10, given together, significantly reduced a measure of long-term blood sugar control (hemoglobin A1c levels) in animal studies. Vitamin E alone decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels, and also had protective effects in the nervous systems of diabetic animals.
ALA may reduce oxidative stress and improve diabetic complications, such as neuropathy and cardiovascular impairment. ALA also reduces cholesterol levels and protects insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
These might work:
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is another antioxidant that seems to play a role in carbohydrate metabolism and insulin secretion.
Astragalus is a Chinese herb that might reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.
Red yeast rice is a popular supplement for reducing cholesterol levels. It also seems to protect against free radical damage and to lower blood sugar and triglyceride levels. Many safety concerns, however, limit the usefulness of red yeast rice supplements.
Emodin is a compound found in Aloe vera juice and the root of the rhubarb plant. In animal studies, emodin helped lower cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon may help decrease blood fats, blood sugar, and hemoglobin A1c, but research is conflicting. The study’s authors emphasized that studies conducted prior to the past three years are also relevant. “The absence of these nutritional supplements in this article should not be viewed as them being a poor treatment choice or as being based on poor evidence, rather a methodologic decision to focus on recent studies,” commented lead study author, Tanya Lee, ND.
Other popular diabetes supplements
These supplements have a good track record in diabetes management.
Chromium: This mineral, which occurs naturally in brewer’s yeast, helps improve glucose tolerance. It may also help lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lowering the risk of heart disease.
Magnesium: This mineral is often lacking in diabetics, and supplementing with it can help improve insulin production. It may also help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, warding off diabetes in those at risk for the disease.
(Curr Diab Rep 2011;11:142–8)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.