Welcome to DIY (Do It Yourself) Diabetes with Marci Page Sloane

Vitamins & Supplements
Learn what dietary supplements may help people with diabetes

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NCCAM/NIH), dietary supplements were defined in a law passed by Congress in 1994. A dietary supplement must meet all of the following conditions:

  • It is a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet, which contains one or more of the following: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; or any combination of the above ingredients.
  • It is intended to be taken in tablet, capsule, powder, soft-gel, gelcap, or liquid form.
  • It is not represented for use as a conventional food or as a sole item of a meal or the diet.
  • It is labeled as being a dietary supplement.
  • They are regulated as foods, not drugs, so there could be quality issues in the manufacturing process.
  • Supplements can interact with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, and other supplements.
  • "Natural" does not mean "safe" or "effective."
  • Consult your health care provider before starting a supplement, especially if you are pregnant, nursing or considering giving a supplement to a child.

Vitamins, Supplements & Herbs

The following vitamins, supplements and herbs may have some specific benefits for people who have diabetes. Please check with your pharmacist or doctor before considering any of these supplements – especially pregnant women. There is not strong evidence to support any of the claims listed below so use with caution. Be extra careful if you are already taking diabetes medications to lower your blood sugar and you add some supplements that can also help to lower your blood sugar. Carry glucose tablets or some form of sugar with you at all times.

  • Chromium GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor): may play in role in regulating blood glucose by helping insulin transport sugar into cells. 300-400 mcg twice a day.
  • C0Q10 (co-enzyme Q10): a powerful antioxidant that may help maintain a healthy heart. Take a soft-gel (100 mg) with your largest meal.
  • Magnesium – vitamin to help promote healthy insulin production, take 500 mg a day. (may have laxative effects at higher doses). 25-38% of people with diabetes have lower magnesium levels. This deficiency may result in an inability to use insulin properly. Nuts, whole grains, green vegetables and beans have higher levels of magnesium.
  • Vitamin E – due to the controversy, try eating foods containing this powerful antioxidant: spinach, sweet potatoes, seeds/nuts, and wheat germ.
  • Bitter melon - may help to lower blood sugar. Take as directed on bottle. Be very cautious since it may lower blood sugar excessively – especially when taking other diabetes medications.
  • Gurmar (Gymnema Sylvestre, or "sugar-destroyer") – an Indian herb used to help to lower blood sugar. Take as directed. Be very cautious since it may lower blood sugar excessively – especially when taking other diabetes medications.
  • Prickly-pear cactus – may help to lower blood sugar. Take as directed. Be very cautious since it may lower blood sugar excessively – especially when taking other diabetes medications.
  • Cinnamon – controversial but shouldn't hurt you! Try one gram (¼-½ tsp. each day) and see if it helps.
  • Fish oil (omega 3's) — 3,000 - 4,000 mg a day may decrease triglycerides (many people with diabetes have higher triglyceride levels). Be careful! Monitor cholesterol - omega 3's may cause a slight increase in LDL (lousy) cholesterol.
  • Vanadium: is a substance that may improve blood sugar. There is little data.
  • Fenugreek – a seed you can use in foods that will slow down digestion and therefore reduce spikes in blood sugar. The fiber content in fenugreek may decrease the absorption of medications so don't take at the same time as your other medications!

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy affects the legs, feet, and toes, and to a lesser extent, the arms and hands. Peripheral neuropathy causes pain or loss of feeling in the affected areas. Some people with diabetes experience burning or prickling sensations, become very sensitive to touch, or lose balance or coordination. Foot injuries must be given particular attention for people with peripheral neuropathy. The following vitamins, supplements and herbs may provide a benefit:

  • B-100 complex – a water-soluble vitamin that works in conjunction with alpha-lipoic acid to relieve nerve pain.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid – an antioxidant that can enhance glucose uptake and help maintain eye and nerve health. 600mg/day
  • Capsaicin: (get the new roll-on) – a topical treatment (cream) made from hot chili peppers to promote circulation and reduce painful neuropathy.
  • Vitamin C – a water-soluble vitamin. A study from University of Massachusetts in Amherst found that vitamin C supplementation of 250-500 mg per day blocked an enzyme that has been implicated as one possible cause of peripheral neuropathy in diabetes patients. Dietary sources are tomatoes, red peppers, dark green vegetables, fruits.
  • Ginkgo Biloba – may help with circulation to extremities and improves blood flow to brain to improve memory and concentration if one is lacking in those areas. Be careful if taking other blood thinners. This will thin your blood!

Please consult your doctor and/or pharamcist prior to taking supplements. You should be monitored if you take a combination of blood thinners: Coumadin, Plavix, aspirin, CoQ10, Ginkgo Biloba, fish oil, Vitamin E.

Also, Reiki, which is a healing touch that is not hands on, may help to relieve symptoms of neuropathy.

For more information: Visit the NCCAM/NIH Clearinghouse

Marci Sloane, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE, is a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with a degree in Nutrition and Physiology from Teachers College at Columbia University. Marci is the author of The Diet Game: Playing for Life! More about Marci Sloane

The goal of Destination Diabetes is to be a useful and credible resource for the more than 20 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. and their families. Destination Diabetes provides information on a wide range of diabetes health and wellness topics. Articles are written or reviewed by diabetes advisors who have experience in diabetes education.