Diabetic-Friendly Supplements to Help Manage Blood Sugar

July 20, 2021

Diabetic-Friendly Supplements to Help Manage Blood Sugar

In this article:

  • How supplements can influence blood glucose
  • 3 dietary supplements for diabetics and how they help
  • Diabetics - don't bother with these 5 supplements

How Supplements can Influence Blood Glucose

Scientists are beginning to examine how daily supplementation of vitamins, minerals, and other substances may benefit those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High doses of certain diabetes medications can be tedious and come with their own set of side effects. That's why many people are exploring the possibility of taking nutritional supplements that are complementary to their medications, in the hope they will have a more holistic diabetes treatment or prevention plan.

It's important to set expectations in the beginning. Alternative medicines can be very impactful when it comes to preventing type 1 diabetes, if they are paired with healthy lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, social interaction, and hydration are key pillars to manage many of the symptoms of diabetes. With that said, many health care providers are reluctant to recommend supplements because they cannot provide the same level of diabetes control as prescription medications such as metformin, sulfonylureas, or meglitinides. While supplements should not be your main source of diabetes care, they may help to lower blood sugar when used in tandem with prescription medications and may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, one of the biggest life-threatening diabetes complications.

Three Dietary Supplements for Diabetics and How They Help

While the American Diabetes Association does not endorse supplements as a sole method of glucose control, they do provide guidelines to better manage your symptoms. In addition to prescription medicines (as directed by your doctor), making healthy lifestyle choices such as physical activity, hydration, and smart food choices are the 3 most powerful tools in your diabetes management tool kit. These supplements should be seen as accessories!

  • Magnesium: Magnesium supplements are a commonly prescribed supplement for type 1 and type 2 diabetics if your magnesium levels are low.  Magnesium deficiencies affect one in every four diabetics and may inhibit your body's insulin secretion and raise blood pressure. However, if you have kidney damage your body is likely producing too much magnesium already. Before you add this supplement to your diet, seek medical advice from a doctor who will be able to test your magnesium levels and determine if magnesium supplements are safe for you.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiencies are common among Americans, and even more so among diabetics. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans is deficient in vitamin D, and in one particular study of diabetic patients, 72% were found to be deficient in this important vitamin. For that reason, vitamin D deficiency is considered a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown vitamin D supplementation may be able to improve insulin sensitivity by supporting the pancreatic cells which produce insulin.
  • Omega-3s: Some studies have concluded omega-3 fatty acids may be able to decrease insulin resistance, but the main benefit lies in heart disease prevention. Omega-3s are one of the few supplements that have been given the seal of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe and effective method to improve heart health. Taking omega-3 supplements daily (or getting them from your foods) may lower bad cholesterol, increase "good" HDL cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. If you are a vegan or simply can't stand "fish burps" from fish oil capsules, vegan omega-3s can deliver many of the same benefits. For a population that is more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, omega-3s are a supplement you don't want to pass up.

Diabetics - Don't Bother with These 5 Supplements

There have been many debates, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses made to determine the efficacy of the following supplements. However, with enough time and evaluation, the following five supplements ended up conflicting with their previously conceived health benefits.

  • Aloe: Aloe is a skincare superhero, but does it belong in your diabetes management plan? While some studies have pointed to aloe as an effective way to lower blood sugar, the recommended dosage, form, and side effects are still to be determined. Aloe can also counteract many other medications. Perhaps leave aloe for topical use for sunburns and facial cleansers, instead of the capsules for now!
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): If you suffer from diabetic neuropathy (diabetes-related nerve damage in the hands and feet) this powerful antioxidant may be able to help. When blood sugar is high we are more susceptible to free radicals, which can cause inflammation and may worsen nerve damage. Thus, antioxidants are crucial. According to this study, ALA is best used for diabetes prevention or in early-stage diabetic neuropathy to help decrease pain. When taking ALA, the hope is it will turn into DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid essential. However, this process is very inefficient. If you’re seeking more omega-3s, supplements that contain both ALA and DHA are a better bang for your buck.
  • Bitter melon: Bitter melon, a vegetable that is said to help decrease blood sugar levels, is another supplement that doesn't quite live up to the others on the list. While preliminary studies are promising, it comes with more side effects such as liver disease, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain, and vomiting. If you have the taste buds for it, bitter melon can be consumed in a meal, but in supplement form it's best left on the shelf.
  • Chromium: Chromium supplements have been a highly debated diabetic supplement. Chromium reduces your body’s ability to use carbohydrates and thus raises your body's need for insulin. Claims were made that chromium can lower blood sugar levels, but this was only true in the event of deficiencies. Since chromium can be found in many different foods such as whole grains, broccoli, and mushrooms among other foods, deficiency is rare. Your money and efforts are best spent elsewhere.
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon supplements are another popular supplement used to combat high blood sugar. The consumption of concentrated cinnamon supplements has been recorded to lower blood glucose levels by 8.4% in pre-diabetics and upwards of 14% in those with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, sprinkling a bit of cinnamon over your morning latte won't be enough to do the trick. Instead, look for ceylon cinnamon supplements in either liquid or encapsulated powder forms. When consumed in the quantities needed to experience blood glucose stabilization, it can cause upset stomach and digestive issues.

As always, your doctor will be able to best determine your holistic diabetes management plan. Whether the goal is prevention and weight loss or if you're hoping to become less dependent on diabetes medications, consult your doctor and see what's best for your unique needs.

Summary Points

  • Alternative medicines can be very impactful when it comes to preventing type 1 diabetes, if they are paired with healthy lifestyle changes
  • Making healthy lifestyle choices such as physical activity, hydration, and smart food choices are the 3 most powerful tools in your diabetes management tool kit
  • Taking omega-3 supplements daily (or getting them from your foods) may lower bad cholesterol, increase "good" HDL cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and metabolic syndrome
  • As always, your doctor will be able to best determine your holistic diabetes management plan




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