Dietary Supplements in the Management of Diabetes: Risks and Benefits

A wide range of products claiming to lower blood sugar are marketed to the public. People with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to...


Dietary Supplements

A wide range of products claiming to lower blood sugar are marketed to the public. People with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to take complementary and alternative medicine than those with no diabetes according to a recent study published in April, 2008 supplement to (JADA). 

Reasons for using alternative medicine have been reported to include:

• Troublesome side-effects from conventional drug therapy
• A need for more personal control over one’s care plan 
• The increasing expenses of prescription drugs 
•  Frustration with conventional health care providers 
• The ability to spend quality time with alternative


Practitioners, i.e. doctors do not spend enough time educating and talking to their patients so patients choose to go to those who will spend the time. 

Several problematic areas may come up with the use of alternative therapies and pharmacists and Registered Dietitians are uniquely poised to address issues such as potential side-effects, drug interactions, lack of product standardization and the need for evidence-based information on the supplements being used.


This study looked at the most popular supplements used for blood sugar control including bitter melon, cinnamon, chromium, aloe vera, fenugreek, gymnema, ginseng, and nopal. The conclusion was that there are ingredients in these supplements that are pharmacologically active and supplements are not required to undergo the same stringent approval process that is required for medications. Patients should be made aware that these products may contain contaminants or inappropriate amounts of active ingredients and dosage standardization may not be available. A full evidence grade for each of the products discussed in this study is available in table format in the original article

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