Supplements for Diabetes

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Whether you’ve already developed it, are in a pre-diabetic state or even just at risk for the disease, managing diabetes at any stage is a lot about eating right. A wholesome, carbohydrate and fat controlled diet combined with regular physical activity and stress management is the cornerstone of management. But is it enough? It certainly forms the basis of drug-free management, but research has shown that supplementing with nutritional and plant-based remedies can go a long way towards fighting diabetes. Supplements for diabetes can go a long way in helping to manage the condition.


Nutritional supplements are usually given when a deficiency of that vitamin, mineral or amino acid exists, which is often the case in disease states. By correcting that deficiency, a state of metabolic balance can be restored. Diabetes and high blood glucose levels place a lot of oxidative stress on the body, which is the leading cause of long term complications, like heart disease, neuropathy (damage to the nerves, usually in the legs), retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the eye) and kidney disease. Many supplements aimed at improving outcome in diabetes are antioxidant in nature. By scavenging fee radicals, antioxidants help mop up some of the mess that excess glucose has caused. The more common type of diabetes, Type II diabetes, which usually develops later in life and usually in people who are overweight, is associated with a condition known as insulin resistance. Since insulin is the hormone that helps get glucose out of the blood and into the cells (thereby lowering blood glucose levels), many diabetic supplements are aimed at improving insulin sensitivity.


Natural medicines are not intended to work in isolation but are rather a supplement or adjunct to a healthy lifestyle, or may sometimes be used as an alternative to drug therapy. People using supplements for diabetes in conjunction with conventional drugs should always consult a doctor before supplementing, as drug dosages may need to be adjusted. Here’s a look at 10 of the most effective supplements for preventing and managing diabetes that medical nutritional research has uncovered so far.


Individual nutrients




Chromium is a key constituent of what is known as the “glucose tolerance factor”, which is made up of a group of nutrients that help maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Chromium helps the insulin shuttle glucose into the cells where it

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is burned for energy. Without this vital trace mineral, insulin simply would not function. Chromium is best absorbed in the forms chromium picolinate or chromium polynicotinate. At a dosage of 200-600 micrograms per day, chromium supplementation has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels in diabetics. As an added effect, because of its effects on blood sugar, chromium helps curb the appetite and reduces cravings for sweet things. Foods that contain chromium include, Brewer’s yeast, liver, oysters, black pepper, broccoli, spinach, dried beans, and whole grains





This vital mineral plays a role in over 300 metabolic pathways in the body. Magnesium is a cofactor for insulin action and plays a critical role in insulin sensitivity, yet as many as one in three diabetics are magnesium deficient. In addition, studies have shown that as magnesium intake goes up, the risk of developing Type II diabetes goes down. A simple blood test can help identify a magnesium deficiency. General recommendations for supplementation are at 350-500mg per day. In the diet, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, wheat germ, and whole grains provide a good source of magnesium.




Carnitine is an amino acid like substance and also closely related to the B vitamins. Its main function is the transporting of long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria (the fat incinerators of the cells), where they are oxidized into energy. When diabetics are given carnitine supplements at a dosage of 1g per day, high blood levels of fats- both cholesterol and triglycerides, drop. Carnitine should be purchased in the form on L-carnitine. Taking L-carnitine with 50mg vitamin B6 and 100mg vitamin C enhances its absorption. Carnitine is obtained mostly from animal sources like fish, poultry and meat but can also be found in tofu, mushrooms, bread, rice, asparagus, avocados and peanut butter.




Vitamin E


Vitamin E’s role in diabetes is 2-fold. For one, it helps improve insulin sensitivity and improves blood glucose control. It also acts as a powerful anti-oxidant, reducing free-radical induced damage, particularly to the vascular system and thereby reducing damage to the heart and blood vessels. Start with 400 international units per day and slowly work up to 1200 international units per day. If you have high blood pressure, limit your supplemental intake to 400 international units per day. People on blood thinning medications should consult a doctor before supplementing with vitamin E. Boost dietary vitamin E by adding avocados, green leafy vegetables and cold pressed vegetable oils to your diet.


Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10)


This vitamin-like substance (sometimes referred to as ubiquinone) is an anti-oxidant, cell protectant and blood oxygenator, with very similar functions to Vitamin E, and in fact the two seem to work well together. CoQ10 is also one of the substances needed for normal carbohydrate metabolism and ironically, certain drugs used to treat diabetes and its complications actually destroy CoQ10. It may also play a role in protecting against diabetic retinopathy, because of its ability to feed and oxygenate the tiny blood vessels of the eye. Meats and seafood contain small amounts of CoQ10. Supplements are marketed as tablets and capsules. The recommended daily intake is 50-80mg per day.


Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)


ALA is a vitamin-like substance that acts as a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Some studies have hinted at benefits related to improved glucose uptake, increased insulin sensitivity and weight loss. There is some sound evidence that high dose ALA (up to 1800mg per day) significantly improves symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, a common long-term complication of diabetes. In foods, alpha-lipoic acid is found in liver, spinach, broccoli and potatoes.




Pycnogenol is part of a group of powerful antioxidants called oligomaric proanthocyanadins (OPCs). Clinical tests suggest that OPCs may be as much as fifty times more potent than vitamin E and twenty times more potent than vitamin C in terms of bioavailability. Extracted from the French maritime pine bark extract, pycnogenol has shown some promise as an adjunctive treatment for diabetes by lowering blood sugar and improving endothelial function (and therefore protecting the cardiovascular system). It has also been shown to help preserve and even restore visual acuity in retinopathy. Pycnogenol can be supplemented at 100mg per day.


Plant-based remedies




This common spice may help prevent and treat diabetes. Impressive research has shown that cinnamon rekindles the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin and therefore increases the removal of glucose. It is believed that a substance in cinnamon known as MHCP is responsible for its beneficial effects. In order to reap the benefits, diabetics should take a quarter to 1 teaspoon of the spice per day. Simply add it to your morning porridge, to teas or to soups and stews.


Hydroxycitric acid (HCA)


HCA is the active ingredient extracted from the rind of a pumpkin-like fruit, Garcinia cambogia (also known as the Malabar tamarind), which grows in India and Southeast Asia. HCA works by preventing the conversion of excess carbohydrates into fats and also slows the rate at which glucose is absorbed in the body. It has multiple benefits in diabetes, including improved blood sugar control, reduced blood lipid levels, appetite suppression and weight loss.


Gymnema sylverstre


This Indian herb is sometimes used as a substitute for oral blood glucose medications in Type II diabetes. Gymnema is thought to have the ability to repair damaged beta-cells (the pancreatic cells that produce insulin). The standard dosage is 500mg gymnema extract per day.

Author: Ashleigh Caradas

* A copy of this article appeared in LONGEVITY MAGAZINE


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