Many people with diabetes are looking for natural ways to control their blood sugar levels – and some turn to vitamin and nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, not all supplements for diabetes have been well researched and taking the wrong combination of supplements could be harmful. Which type 2 diabetes supplements hold the most promise for naturally lowering blood sugars – and which don’t?
Supplements for Controlling Diabetes: Cinnamon Supplements for Diabetes
Some studies show that taking a half-teaspoon a day of cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity and helps to lower blood sugars in people with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, a meta-analysis looking at cinnamon supplements for diabetes found they don’t lower fasting blood sugar levels, hemoglobin A1c levels, or lipid levels in diabetics.
On the other hand, using a half-teaspoon of cinnamon on cereal or in coffee in the morning isn’t harmful, but don’t take cinnamon supplements for diabetes. Cinnamon is in a concentrated form could be harmful.
White Mulberry Leaf for Controlling Diabetes
White mulberry leaf is sold as an extract to help diabetics control blood sugar levels. It works by slowing down the absorption of sugars by the intestines, which should theoretically help to moderate blood sugar levels. Although a study in rats showed white mulberry leaf lowered blood sugar levels, there haven’t been a lot of human studies – at least not yet.
Type 2 Diabetes Supplements: Alpha-Lipoic Acid
This is another supplement, available at most health food stores, for controlling diabetes. It acts by increasing insulin sensitivity, but it doesn’t lower hemoglobin A1C levels. Its greatest benefit may be for preventing and treating diabetic neuropathy after a double-blind study showed it reduced the pain and sensory changes associated with diabetic neuropathy. It’s also a good antioxidant and has few side effects, although it should be used under a doctor’s care.
Avoid Using Vanadium or Chromium for Controlling Diabetes
Another popular type 2 diabetes supplement is vanadium, a trace mineral that mimics the effects of insulin. Unfortunately, it also blocks a number of important enzymes and may damage the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It can also be toxic to the kidneys at high doses. This is one to avoid – for obvious reasons.
Chromium, another popular type 2 diabetes supplement, only benefits diabetics who are chromium deficient ‘” and there have been rare cases of kidney failure from supplemental doses of chromium. Leave this one on the shelves of your local health food store unless you’re chromium deficient.
What Does Work for Controlling Diabetes
Fiber supplements such as psyllium and ground flaxseed slow down glucose absorption and prevent rapid rises in blood sugar levels. They also help to lower the risk of heart disease, the most common cause of death in people with diabetes. Eat a fiber-rich diet or talk to your doctor about taking a psyllium supplement. Psyllium is safe for most people, but could cause abdominal discomfort and flatulence.
Type 2 Diabetes Supplements: The Bottom Line
Not all supplements marketed for diabetics are well-researched. Consider the pros and cons of each – and talk to your doctor before using one.
Diabetes Care January 2008 vol. 31 no. 1 41-43
Medscape.com. “Alpha-Lipoic Acid Helpful in Diabetic Neuropathy”
Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Jun;53(6):1431-5.
Prescriber’s Letter. August 2010. page 47-48.