When it comes to managing diabetes, lifestyle plays a major role in blood sugar management and overall health. What you eat, how you move your body, your sleep patterns, and your stress levels are all factors that can impact your blood sugar levels. Even if you take medication to manage your diabetes, it should be used in conjunction with a nutritious diet and physical activity. But what about supplements? Are they safe and effective?
Supplements are intended to fill nutrient deficiencies when you are unable to meet your needs through food alone or if you have a deficiency. Since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it is important to take them with caution. Always look for third-party certification to make sure what they say is right, and never start supplementation without the supervision of a dietitian or doctor. Supplements can be expensive and if not taken carefully can be harmful, especially if you are taking certain medications or have other health conditions.
The 5 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take If You Have Diabetes
There are different types of diabetes and different treatment options for each type, so it’s hard to generalize about which supplements not everyone with diabetes should take. This is one of the reasons it is so important to talk to a medical professional. That said, here are five supplements you might want to reconsider if you have diabetes because they may interfere with certain medications, disrupt blood sugar, or cause unwanted side effects.
Chromium is a mineral found in a number of foods, such as meat, vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts. A chromium deficiency can lead to high blood sugar; however, deficiency is very rare. If you have diabetes and take insulin or other oral medications to lower blood sugar, taking chromium may increase your risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The American Diabetes Association warns anyone with kidney disease against taking chromium because supplementation can make kidney disease worse. Chromium supplementation may also interfere with levothyroxine (a drug commonly used to treat hypothyroidism).
2. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon is an herbal supplement that has been studied for its use in lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes. Its components – charantin, vicin and polypeptide-p – are thought to be similar in structure to insulin (the hormone involved in blood sugar control).
In a systematic review and meta-analysis in Nature, researchers found that data on bitter melon supplementation remain inconsistent. The studies that have been done are short and the doses of bitter melon used vary. More research is needed to determine long-term effects and safety. Also, if you are prone to hypoglycemia, bitter melon may increase your risk of hypoglycemia and may not be right for you.
3. Green tea extract
Consuming green tea has been shown to provide benefits for people with diabetes. For example, in a meta-analysis of 17 clinical trials published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that drinking green tea had favorable effects, such as a decrease in fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C (three-month average blood sugar). However, there is little research on the effectiveness of a green tea supplement outside of animal studies, and most studies have been very short-lived. Therefore, additional supplementation beyond green tea consumption is probably not necessary.
4. St. John’s wort
Further research is needed on the use of St. John’s wort and diabetes, due to its potential effects on diabetes medications, insulin sensitivity, and insulin secretion. A small study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, which evaluated the use of St. John’s wort and metformin in 20 healthy male subjects, found that taking it in combination with metformin can increase insulin secretion and lower blood sugar after a glucose tolerance test. However, another very small study, including 10 healthy male subjects, found that there was no change in insulin sensitivity when taking St. John’s Wort alone. Instead, the researchers noted less insulin secretion, which can raise blood sugar.
These very small studies had conflicting results and did not include diverse populations or people with diabetes or were of long enough duration to examine long-term effects. Therefore, further studies are needed to explore the drug-herb interactions, as well as the insulin-secreting effects of St. John’s wort.
Additionally, if you have diabetes and heart disease and take blood thinners, the ADA recommends avoiding St. John’s Wort because it can increase bleeding.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can help fight oxidative stress, a precursor and contributor to type 2 diabetes. However, vitamin E can interact with blood thinners and increase the risk of bleeding by blocking the blood thinning effects of vitamin K. Therefore, unsupervised supplementation is not recommended if you have diabetes and are taking blood thinners.
Healthy eating tips if you have diabetes
Before spending lots of money on supplements that may not work or cause harm, focus on simple but lasting dietary changes. Whole foods contain a variety of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Try increasing your intake of plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds) that are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
Fiber is the indigestible part of carbohydrates that can help reduce blood sugar spikes because it is metabolized slowly. A simple way to eat more fiber is to eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal, make half your cereal whole grain, and add a serving of unsalted nuts each day. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily. If you’re not used to eating fibrous foods, increase your intake slowly and drink plenty of fluids to reduce the risk of stomach discomfort, such as gas.
When you eat carbohydrates (cereals, potatoes, beans, corn), pair them with non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This combination of foods will not only provide satiation, but will also help you increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, essential fats and proteins. A simple but effective strategy is to use the plate method. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with lean protein, and the other quarter with a complex carbohydrate. For example, roast chicken with sautéed broccoli and baked sweet potato is a balanced and filling meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are there over-the-counter treatments for diabetes?
It is very important not to replace medical treatment with over-the-counter products that claim to treat diabetes. Diabetes treatment is ongoing and requires daily diabetes self-management. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a nutritious diet, weight loss (when indicated), physical activity, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress can help you manage your diabetes. Unfortunately, no supplement will cure you.
2. What supplements can help with diabetes?
If you are lacking in a vitamin, you may benefit from supplementation. And if you have diabetes complications, certain supplements, including vitamin D, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics, can relieve symptoms or delay the progression of diabetes complications.
Vitamin D: Having low levels of vitamin D is associated with the development of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with an increased risk of foot ulcers and other infections, feelings of depression, and impaired bone health, to name a few. Some studies suggest that vitamin D and calcium supplementation, in people who are deficient, can help improve blood sugar control. It is important for all people with diabetes to assess their vitamin D status with their health care provider to determine if supplementation is needed.
B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids: People with diabetes, especially those taking metformin, may be at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Metformin can reduce B12 absorption and blood levels. B12 deficiency and insufficiency are associated with neuropathy, so it is important to assess B12 status. If levels are low, supplementation may be recommended. If you have complications from diabetes, such as neuropathy (nerve damage), you may want to talk to your doctor about using B vitamins or fish oil to treat pain and prevent progression of the disease. disease. Animal studies have shown omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to be beneficial, but more research is needed.
Probiotics: There is growing evidence to support the use of probiotics for gut health, diabetes, and blood sugar control. Some studies have shown that using probiotics like yogurt, fermented milk, and capsules has a beneficial effect on blood sugar control. Keep in mind that different strains of probiotics have different functions and your eating habits, as well as the amount of colony units you take, can also have an impact. If you want to take a supplement, be sure to talk to a professional. A good place to start increasing your probiotic intake is by adding fermented foods to your diet. try yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso.
While supplements can be helpful when you need to fill nutrient gaps or when you’re deficient, they aren’t always safe, and often we don’t know their long-term effects. Therefore, before spending money on supplements, take a look at your lifestyle. A food-based approach is a safer, more affordable and more realistic way to prevent and manage diabetes. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins can help you manage blood sugar and inflammation (another key contributor to diabetes).
If you have diabetes or are caring for someone who does and aren’t sure where to start, see a registered dietitian or specialist in diabetes care and education. Before taking any supplements, discuss them with your healthcare provider.