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Diabetes and Dietary Supplements

Diabetes finger test

What’s the Bottom Line?

How much do we know about dietary supplements for diabetes?

  • Many studies have investigated dietary supplements for preventing or treating type 2 diabetes or its complications (the focus of this fact sheet).

What do we know about the effectiveness of dietary supplements for diabetes?

  • For a few dietary supplements, there is weak evidence of a possible benefit. For example, chromium might help with blood sugar control, and alpha-lipoic acid might be helpful for diabetic neuropathy (nerve problems). For most supplements, however, there isn’t evidence to support a beneficial effect on diabetes or its complications.

What do we know about the safety of dietary supplements for diabetes?

  • Some dietary supplements may have side effects, and some of these side effects, such as kidney damage, can be serious.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers about products for diabetes that seem too good to be true, such as those that claim to be a “natural diabetes cure” or to “replace your diabetes medicine.” These products are marketed illegally. Some are harmful in themselves, and all are harmful if people use them in place of effective diabetes treatment.
  • It’s very important not to replace medical treatment for diabetes with an unproven health product or practice.

About Diabetes

  • Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems.
  • About 9.4 percent of the people in the United States have diabetes, but about one in four people who have diabetes don’t know it.
  • Although diabetes has no cure, people with diabetes can take steps to manage their condition and stay healthy. Taking insulin or other diabetes medicines is often part of treating diabetes, along with healthy food choices and physical activity.

Kidney disease has been linked to using some dietary supplements. This is of particular concern for people with diabetes, since diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. If you have or are at risk for kidney disease, a health care provider should closely monitor your use of supplements.

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness and Safety of Dietary Supplements for Diabetes

Nutrition and Physical Activity for People With Diabetes

Nutrition and physical activity are important parts of a healthy lifestyle for people with diabetes. Eating well and being physically active can help you

  • Keep your blood glucose level, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target ranges
  • Lose weight or stay at a healthy weight
  • Prevent or delay diabetes problems
  • Feel good and have more energy.

For more information, see NIDDK’s Web page Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity.

NCCIH-Funded Research

NCCIH is supporting research on the possible effects of:

  • Components of grape skin on blood sugar control
  • Chelation therapy on heart health in people who have diabetes and have had a heart attack
  • Marijuana on the body’s metabolism and risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Acupuncture on painful diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) in underserved patients.

More To Consider

  • The FDA is warning consumers not to buy illegally marketed, potentially dangerous products claiming to prevent, treat, or cure diabetes. These products make claims like “lowers your blood sugar naturally” or “inexpensive therapy to fight and eliminate type II diabetes.” They may contain harmful ingredients and the label may not tell you what you’re actually taking.
  • Fraudulent diabetes products can be especially dangerous if you use them instead of proven treatments for diabetes. Without proper disease management, people with diabetes are at greater risk of developing serious complications.
  • Keep in mind that dietary supplements may interact with medications or other dietary supplements. To learn more, visit NCCIH’s Web page on Dietary and Herbal Supplements.
  • Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226

tty (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers):

1-866-464-3615

Website: https://nccih.nih.gov/

Email: info@nccih.nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Type 2 Diabetes and Dietary Supplements—Systematic Reviews/Reviews/Meta-analyses

Type 2 Diabetes and Dietary Supplements—Randomized Controlled Trials

Website: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

NIH Clinical Research Trials and You

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a website, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials.gov and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.

Website: https://www.nih.gov/health-information/nih-clinical-research-trials-you

National Diabetes Education Program

The National Diabetes Education Program is sponsored by NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with many Federal, state, and local partners. Its services include information and publications on diabetes.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-301-496-3583

Website: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/communication-programs/ndep?dkrd=lgdmn0025

MedlinePlus

To provide resources that help answer health questions, MedlinePlus (a service of the National Library of Medicine) brings together authoritative information from the National Institutes of Health as well as other Government agencies and health-related organizations.

Information on diabetes

Website: https://www.medlineplus.gov/

Key References

Acknowledgments

NCCIH thanks D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH, for their contributions to the 2018 update of this publication.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: May 2018