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Diabetes and supplements

Can taking dietary and other supplements help people with diabetes?

Diabetes UK says most people get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from a healthy balanced diet. It says there is no clinical evidence supporting most people with diabetes taking vitamin or mineral supplements.

Supplements and herbal remedies may be promoted as being 'natural' but these can still have an effect on medical conditions like diabetes and may interfere with prescribed treatments. Check with your diabetes care team if you are considering taking any supplements.

What are food supplements?

Food supplements are vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components such as herbs that are taken by mouth. Food supplements may be able to provide extra nutritional benefit to people with special health problems, including diabetes. However, most people with diabetes will have to continue taking their usual prescription medication to control their blood sugar levels.

How food supplements may help control diabetes

Not enough research has been done so far to support specific recommendations for diabetes and food supplements. However, ongoing studies point to two minerals that may, but have not been proven to, be helpful for people with diabetes:

Chromium may help control blood glucose levels and aid weight loss. A 1997 study of 180 people with type 2 diabetes was published by the American Diabetes Association. It concluded that: "supplemental chromium had significant beneficial effects on HbA1c, glucose, insulin, and cholesterol variables in subjects with type 2 diabetes." However, chromium also has risks and its use is somewhat controversial. The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says that chromium supplementation has been researched for its effect on glucose control in people with diabetes. Study results have been mixed. Some researchers have found benefits, but many of the studies have not been well designed. Additional, high-quality research is needed.

Meanwhile, Diabetes UK does not recommend taking chromium as a way of reversing type 2 diabetes. It says regular physical activity, eating a healthy balanced diet and keeping an eye on weight are essential for treating type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium levels are often low in people who have problems with insulin secretion and in people with complications of diabetes. Whether magnesium food supplements can help relieve or reduce these problems is still unknown. In one study, researchers at the University of North Carolina in the US looked at magnesium intake and diabetes risk in 4,497 men and women 18 to 30 years old. None were diabetic at the study's outset. During a 20-year follow-up period, 330 of the subjects developed diabetes. The study found people who consumed the most magnesium in foods and from vitamin supplements were about half as likely to develop diabetes over the next 20 years as people who took in the least magnesium.

A study at the University of Germany. The study found that taking a daily magnesium supplement could help overweight people who are also insulin resistant to improve their condition and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Researchers monitored 52 overweight and insulin resistant patients, who were not suffering from diabetes, over a period of six months. Half of them received active magnesium supplements and the other half a placebo. It was shown that those who had taken the supplement had much healthier blood sugar levels, as well as an improvement in their insulin sensitivity.

Overall, Diabetes UK says there is no clear evidence of benefits from vitamin or mineral supplements for people with diabetes who do not have diagnosed deficiencies.


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