Diabetes is a group of chronic diseases that affect metabolism—the way the body uses food for energy and growth. Millions of people have diabetes, which can lead to serious health problems if it is not managed well. Conventional medical treatments and following a healthy lifestyle, including watching your weight, can help you prevent, manage, and control many complications of diabetes. Researchers are studying several complementary health approaches, including dietary supplements, to see if they can help people manage type 2 diabetes or lower their risk of developing the disease; however, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to suggest that any dietary supplements can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
Here are 6 things you should know about taking dietary supplements for type 2 diabetes.
- A healthy diet, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic tools for managing type 2 diabetes. Your health care providers will help you learn to manage your diabetes and track how well you are controlling it. It is very important not to replace proven conventional medical treatment for diabetes with an unproven health product or practice.
- Some dietary supplements may have side effects, including interacting with your diabetes treatment or increasing your risk of kidney problems. This is of particular concern because diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure in the United States. Supplement use should be monitored closely in patients who have or are at risk for kidney disease.
- Chromium (an essential trace mineral found in many foods) has been studied for preventing diabetes and controlling glucose levels, but research has found it has few or no benefits. There have been a few reports of kidney damage, muscular problems, and skin reactions following large doses of chromium.
- There is mixed evidence that magnesium helps to manage diabetes–benefits of magnesium supplements on diabetes have been found in some, but not all clinical studies. However, research suggests that people with lower magnesium intake may have a greater risk of developing diabetes. A large 2007 study found an association between a higher intake of cereal fiber and magnesium and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Large doses of magnesium in supplements can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramping, and very large doses—more than 5,000 mg/day per day—can be deadly.
- There is no strong evidence that herbs and other dietary supplements, including cinnamon, alpha-lipoic acid, and omega-3s, can help to control diabetes or its complications. Researchers have found some risks but no clear benefits of cinnamon for people with diabetes. For example, a 2012 review of the scientific literature did not support using cinnamon for type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- Talk with your health care provider before considering any dietary supplement for yourself, particularly if you are pregnant or nursing, or for a child. Do not replace scientifically proven treatments for diabetes with unproven health products or practices. The consequences of not following your prescribed medical regimen for diabetes can be very serious.