The dietary supplement business is a billion dollar industry. It is unregulated by the FDA and is often unsupported by science. However, what if people with diabetes need supplements? What nutrients might be lacking in people with diabetes? What are some reasons that people with diabetes need supplements? Is there any harm in taking them?
There have been many claims about how supplements can help people living with diabetes. This article will discuss some of the reasons people with diabetes might take supplements.
Diabetes and Vitamin Deficiencies
Some medications taken by persons with diabetes can impact the way our bodies metabolize nutrients and could cause potential deficiencies. For example, metformin, a common glucose lowering medication could cause a vitamin B12 deficiency due to malabsorption. Vitamin B12 is required for DNA synthesis, neurological function, and formation of red blood cells (1).
Diabetes causes hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels), which can impair the body’s ability to combat oxidative stress. Coenzyme Q10 plays two important roles in our body; it aids in providing energy to our cells and acts as a major antioxidant. A deficiency in CoQ10 could impair the body’s defense against stress caused by hyperglycemia. Some studies have found people with diabetes have a deficiency of CoQ10 levels compared to healthy individuals, most likely due to depletion in response to excessive oxidative stress. Therefore, CoQ10 could help alleviate the oxidative stress leading to an improvement of glucose levels (2).
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that aids in calcium and phosphorus absorption.Vitamin D has been linked to diabetes in several ways including playing a role in delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes (3), it’s deficiency has been linked to individuals with diabetes (4), and supplementation has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (5). Although adults will get sufficient vitamin D absorption through sunlight, those who live in colder climates and/or stay out of the sun may decide to take supplementation through the winter months as it could be difficult to get sufficient amounts through diet.
Diabetes Supplements with Potential Glucose Lowering Effects
Chromium is a mineral and trace element that is essential for carbohydrate and fat metabolism. A meta-analysis showed a favorable effect of supplementing chromium picolinate in people with type 2 diabetes by lowering HbA1c and fasting blood glucose with poor glucose control at baseline (6).
Cinnamon is a spice that has been studied for its effects on the promotion of insulin sensitivity, release and glucose metabolism due to the active compound cinnamaldehyde. A meta-analysis found that supplemental cinnamon may decrease fasting blood glucose levels however it does not have an effect on lowering A1C (7). While adding cinnamon to your meals will enhance flavor, it may not promote desirable glucose response through typical portion sizes.
There are many dietary supplements that may play a role in improving glucose metabolism and diabetes outcomes. Some side effects of supplements in high doses include GI distress, liver, and kidney damage. In addition, they may interfere with medications you currently take. As always, check with your health care provider before taking any supplements.