Supplements for Diabetes: Where Is the Evidence?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Posted on

A third of patients with adult onset diabetes take supplements. Many non-diabetics take supplements thinking it may prevent the onset of diabetes. Well, this is an area where there are many years of good studies. So know this: there are two types of “medications”: those that work and those that don’t. Same goes for supplements. Supplements and vitamins are not tested for safety or efficacy before they are marketed to you so don’t waste your money on something that hasn’t been shown to work.

So what does work, and what shouldn’t you take?

1. Yes, sort of. Magnesium (Mg): The buzz around Mg and diabetes started because people who have a low dietary magnesium intake have been shown to have an increased risk of adult onset diabetes. Supplementation with magnesium (magnesium oxide) has not been shown to help prevent or control diabetes. Magnesium supplements have been shown, however, to improve leg cramps in diabetics (magnesium oxide, 400 mg daily).

2. Yes, if you are burning or tingling. Alpha lipoic acid helps for diabetic neuropathy. A few studies have shown benefits here from 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid supplements on pain from diabetic neuropathy. Try it, it’s much less toxic than your prescription options for neuropathy and if it helps, great.

3. Not. Chromium + Biotin: This combination has been well-studied and results show no effect from chromium + biotin supplementation on sugars or cholesterol panel.

4. Yes, if you have gestational diabetes. Vitamin D is of no benefit for prevention or improvement in adult onset diabetes but there WAS benefit in women with gestational diabetes taking 50,000 IU Vitamin D3 twice daily, with improved sugars and cholesterol panel.

5. Not. Curcumin and L-arginine have not shown benefit in humans for prevention or improvement in diabetes. Some animal studies did show benefit with L-arginine and curcumin in wound healing in diabetics.

6. It’s a yes to Cinnamon. Several studies have been done on cinnamon and two did show modest improvement in blood sugar control with cinnamon supplementation. Some showed no difference. Because cinnamon is well tolerated it’s probably worth a try.

7. Yes, sort of. Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Three grams a day of omega 3 fatty acids, in one study, did reduce inflammatory markers in type II diabetics (TNF and Interleukin with no difference in C-reactive protein). Whether this translates into any meaningful clinical improvement is unknown but omega 3s are not a bad idea for other potential benefits.

8. Yes but be so careful here. Amino Acid (AA) Supplements. One study found that an AA supplement called Big One positively influenced sugar and triglycerides in elderly patients with diabetes.

9. Nope, not at all. Zinc has been well studied for the prevention of adult onset diabetes. Zinc supplementation does not prevent the development of Type II Diabetes. You don’t need it.

10. Yes, if you can find it. Yellow passion fruit peel flour. This I love. In 2012 a study found that 30 grams a day of yellow passion fruit flour improved fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin AIC (HbAIC) in type II diabetics.

11. NOT ever. Selenium. High selenium levels have been shown to increase your risk of type II diabetes and selenium supplements have not been shown to prevent or improve diabetes. Don’t take this supplement. It has a narrow therapeutic range and may be toxic.

Physicians and professional organizations agree, the best nutritional strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of foods.

Dr O.

Drugs featured in this story

Filed under