Jan 28, 2021

The Truth About Dietary Supplements and Diabetes

These supplements have been touted to provide significant benefits to those living with type 2 diabetes. But should you believe the hype?

By Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE

Dietary supplements are products that are taken with the intention of adding supplemental nutritional value to the diet. According to the FDA, supplements may be one of the following or a combination of the following materials:

  • a vitamin
  • a mineral
  • an herb or other botanical
  • an amino acid
  • a dietary substance for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake
  • a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, or extract

“Dietary supplements may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, soft gels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders,” according to the FDA. “Some dietary supplements can help ensure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of disease.”[1]

Thousands of consumers take herbal supplements daily, yet, it’s important to understand that supplements are not actively regulated by the FDA, and manufacturers only have to provide “reasonable assurance” of the safety of a supplement, not proof.

This doesn’t mean that all supplements are unsafe and should not be used. Instead, you simply need to use supplements made by manufacturers with good reputations and to take advantage of consumer reviews to check product integrity.

For people living with type 2 diabetes, supplements are often touted as having significant health benefits, specifically by helping them with their blood sugar control. But do these supplements really help, and are they healthy to take?

We’ll go over chromium, cinnamon, and omega-3 fatty acids, three of the most commonly mentioned supplements for those living with type 2 diabetes.

Chromium

Chromium is a mineral that is found in certain foods such as fish, animal fats, meats, brown sugar, tea, coffee, brewer’s yeast, whole grain bread, cheeses, molasses, and many fruits and vegetables. The metal has been studied extensively for its ability to help reduce insulin resistance.

This mineral is needed for the normal metabolism of fats and helps with absorption and storage of nutrients which may help explain the benefits of this mineral in patients with diabetes. Chromium supplements containing between 200-1000mcg of chromium have been found in some studies to improve insulin resistance.[2] The substance is not absorbed naturally very well, which is why chromium supplements may be advocated.

Despite studies that show that chromium is effective in helping maintain blood sugar control in patients with diabetes, there are also studies refuting some of that evidence.[3]

Overall, there is a lack of evidence regarding the benefits of taking chromium supplements to help with diabetes management. If you’re considering taking chromium as a supplement, you may want to do your own research to decide if it’s right for you. A good idea may be to check into current studies and research around the topic in order to make an informed decision,

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an aromatic, household spice. You are most likely familiar with this spice and it’s often used in oatmeal or holiday recipes like pumpkin pie.

Although cinnamon doesn’t contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, it does contain a lot of antioxidants. Some studies have shown that this spice may lower cholesterol and blood sugars to some degree.[4]

In one study, cinnamon was shown to help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in participants. In fact, blood sugar levels were lowered by 24%.[5] Yet, there are also similar studies that show cinnamon had no significant effect on participants’ health.

Cinnamon is tasty and can be used for cooking and baking to enhance the taste of many dishes. It’s generally safe unless you suffer from liver problems, in which case avoidance of cinnamon products may be best.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

You’ve probably heard a lot about omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are celebrated for having a positive influence on the heart. Specifically, omega-3s may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk and reduce irregular heartbeats.[6]

The supplement fish oil is often suggested for those that want to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but the compound can also be found in walnuts, some vegetable oils, and fish.

Several studies have shown the useful attributes of omega-3s, specifically that they may decrease the rate of heart disease and lower triglyceride levels. Since those living with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for cardiovascular complications, omega-3s may be of significant interest to those living with type 2 diabetes.

In regards to type 2 diabetes and managing blood glucose levels, a 2001 study showed that fish oils were effective in lowering triglycerides and raised LDL cholesterol, but had no significant effect on fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, total cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol. [7]

While the effects of fish oil on those living with type 2 diabetes need to be further investigated, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you include two or more weekly servings of fish – particularly fatty fish – to help maintain omega 3 levels in your body.

Overall, more study needs to be done for each of the above supplements in order to determine whether they are truly effective in helping those living with type 2 diabetes. A word of caution: if something is advertised as a miracle cure or treatment, don’t believe it. Remember, there is no “magic bullet” to treat diabetes and heart disease and anything that claims to be a miracle cure is likely too good to be true.

Yet, when used correctly and under medical supervision, supplements can help with some health concerns. If you are curious about including supplements in your diet or increasing your intake of certain substances, be sure to first contact your healthcare provider and consult with your primary care physician. They can give you accurate and up to date information about what supplements are ok to take, and which you should stay away from.

About Susan Sloane
Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 29 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for most of her career. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

Susan has published numerous articles on the topic of diabetes for patients and health care professionals. She has committed her career goals to helping patients with diabetes stay well through education.

Medical Disclaimer
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.

[1] https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm195635.htm

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15208835

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3845/abstract

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14633804

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14633804

[6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11687050

 

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