Diabetes and Natural Supplements: Which Work? Which Don't?

What natural supplements and medicines work to prevent or lessen diabetes? We know that the Western-prescribed medicines such as insulin injections and metformin pills are extremely effective, but wouldn’t it be great, and much healthier for us, if we could focus on more natural therapies? Fortunately, with diabetes, there are quite a few healthy approaches for everyone, from healthy people to pre-diabetics and diabetics.

So, What Works?

There’s a good free review from Cardiovascular Therapeutics from last year, titled “Nutraceuticals in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome“. Also, my favorite natural medicine website, the Natural Medicines Database, yet again has a wonderful, free article on natural medicines for treating diabetes. This group provides an essential service for docs and consumers: they review all the best research and offer evidence-based advice on natural medicines — what works and what doesn’t work. At the bottom of their article is a nice summary graph, and here is a snippet:

Natural Medicines For Diabetes
Natural Medicines For Diabetes

There Is No Wonder-Supplement

First, the graph implies that there is as yet no officially “Effective” and “Likely Safe” natural medicine. In fact, nothing reviewed is assessed to be either “effective” or “likely effective.” The best they can state — at least,  in terms of evidence-based research — is a series of therapies that are “Possibly Effective” and “Likely Safe”. This includes psyllium (fiber), guar gum, magnesium, oat bran, and soy. Antioxidants in general such as vitamin C or E do not have strong evidence that they help with diabetes, although alpha-lipoic acid may help, especially with diabetic neuropathy. And a bunch of popular supplements are still in the “Insufficient Evidence” columns — including coenzyme Q10.

The neutraceutical review above also mentions that vitamin D and calcium may also lower risk for diabetes. I already recommend vitamin D for other reasons, so people can consider this as an added benefit.

Selenium: Do Not Use!

One surprising finding that may people don’t know is that selenium, which previously was considered good for diabetes, actually is now considered bad. Not only is it not effective, but it actually can make your diabetes worse. This latest data definitely has not made the rounds of consumer products, as almost all “diabetes” combination-herbs products such as Nature’s Bounty “Diabetes Support Pack” (available in China) still include selenium. So, if you use those expensive herbal pills, the benefits of the cinnamon and chromium may be offset from the harms of selenium — thus not helping you at all. It’s hard to say this conclusively, since all of these formulations are different, but it’s something you should consider before purchasing such combo pills.

My Bottom Line

I think those of you who are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, before considering spending your hard-earned money on any supplements, should first take care of what I mentioned last week are the most effective natural ways to help diabetes — weight loss, exercise and diet. Do not waste your money on multi-pill-pack diabetes supplements if you’re not aggressively getting your weight down 5-10%, or exercising. If you are doing these far more important steps but still have problems, it’s not a terrible idea to try the most effective natural methods:

  • Fiber in all forms, including as oat bran, has the strongest evidence to lower your sugar load ~14-20% each meal
  • Chromium (and cinnamon) have some evidence of effectiveness — you could consider trying for 3 months and stopping if you see no improvement
  • Magnesium may help, but diet forms are much more effective than in a pill
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements may help lower your risk — I previously mentioned doses here
  • Vinegar with meals also lowers your sugar load ~20%
  • The popular Chinese vegetable bitter melon (kugua) can lower that meal’s blood sugar load
  • Soy may help a bit — and in general, soy milk is healthier than cow’s milk, so why not switch? Better yet, make your own soy milk
  • Antioxidants don’t seem to help much with diabetes, but are still a powerful concept — but you should get these from a good diet, not pills
  • Selenium does not work!

Other Resources

I already mentioned that the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database is a great start for those of you looking for evidence-based, trustworthy reviews on natural medicines. You can also use the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset, a search engine focused on top research regarding natural medicines — including Chinese medicines.

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