Dietary And Herbal Supplements For Diabetics

By:    Published: November 30, 2011

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Diabetic individuals may choose to use dietary and herbal supplements in an attempt to help improve blood glucose control, manage symptoms, and reduce risks of developing other serious medical conditions associated with diabetes. However, it is important to note that supplements cannot take the place of any ongoing diabetic treatment. Be sure to also consult your physician before implementing any supplement regimens to make sure it will not interfere with existing treatment.

Known Supplements For Diabetics

  • Alpha Lipoic Acid: Often abbreviated as ALA or known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid, this is a type of vitamin-like chemical that functions like an antioxidant. ALA can help neutralize free radicals and oxidative stress, which are produced from high blood glucose levels. ALA has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease sensations of nerve numbness, pain, and burning.
  • Chromium: An essential trace mineral, chromium is also known as chromium picolinate, chromium chloride, or chromium nicotinate when sold in supplement form. Although the use of chromium in diabetes management still needs to be extensively researched, initial studies suggest that it may help normalize blood sugar for diabetics deficient in the mineral. It also plays a part in metabolizing carbohydrates, fat and protein.
  • Magnesium: This mineral plays a role in supporting insulin function and lowering blood sugar levels, and may be a helpful diabetic supplement. In fact, magnesium deficiency has been shown to be prevalent among individuals affected with diabetes. Magnesium also plays a role in functions of the heart, nerves, muscles, bones and protein synthesis. Studies have suggested that a diet high in magnesium may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These polyunsaturated fats can help lower triglyceride levels, thus protecting a person from cardiovascular related diseases, while reducing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids also help with calcium absorption, muscle movement, cell division and growth, and have anti-cancer properties. While there is little evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help manage blood sugar levels, this may still be a good supplement to take as a preventative measure against other health conditions diabetes may increase risk factors for.
  • Ginseng: There have been studies from the University of Toronto that suggest ginseng is an effective agent for lowering blood glucose levels by 15 to 20 percent when compared to placebo pills. Better known as a Chinese root herb, it is commonly used for boosting the immune system. Ginseng has been suggested to help increase insulin secretion from the pancreas and slow down the absorption of carbohydrates.
  • Glucomannan: Research has shown that soluble fiber derived from the konjac plant, better known as glucomannan, is effective in improving the lipid blood profile and blood sugar levels of high-risk type 2 diabetics. While more research is needed to determine the extent of effectiveness of soluble fiber in treating diabetes, it would be helpful to increase soluble fiber in the diet.

Other Supplements

There are other forms of supplements that have been suggested to help alleviate symptoms for diabetes, but have not been extensively researched for effectiveness for controlling blood sugar. While some debate that they are from a natural or herbal source and thus safer to ingest, it is best to consult a doctor before actually using them to supplement your treatment. Some of these supplements include:

  • Cinnamon
  • St. John’s wort
  • Fenugreek
  • Bitter melon
  • Prickly pear cactus
  • Billberry
  • Gymnema sylvestre
  • Green tea
  • Coenzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10)
  • Primrose oil
  • Garlic

Food Boosters

If you are not a fan of popping pills, making certain diet modifications can help ensure that you are reaping the benefits of the supplements listed above

Food sources for alpha lipoic acid include:

Food sources for chromium include:

  • Meats
  • Animal fats
  • Fish
  • Brown sugar
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Spices
  • Whole-wheat products
  • Rye bread
  • Brewer's yeast

Food sources for magnesium include:

Food sources for omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Oily fish
  • Fish oil
  • Vegetable oil (such as canola and soybean)
  • Walnuts
  • Wheat germ

Food sources for soluble fiber include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Glucomannan derived foods (such as konjac jelly)
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits

What To Watch Out For

It is very important to consult the advice of a licensed physician before taking any regular supplements in conjunction with diabetes treatment. Some supplements may interfere with other diabetic medication and decrease their effectiveness, or cause serious side effects. For example, ginseng may hinder anticoagulants from working properly for diabetic individuals who are also receiving treatment for heart related problems. Also, be sure to get supplements from a licensed distributer, as the government is not required to regulate certain supplements for quality. Be sure to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.

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