Complementary and Alternative Diabetes Treatments

The use of alternative therapies for many diseases, including diabetes, is increasingly popular. People often turn to therapies that are outside the medical mainstream—especially when conventional medications cause troubling side effects or aren't sufficiently effective.

The problem, however, is that few nontraditional treatments have been evaluated in well-designed research studies. So if you want to try any alternative or complementary treatments, talk to your doctor beforehand and do not discontinue your regular therapies. These alternative therapies should be used in addition to—not instead of—your prescribed treatment regimen, and your doctor needs to check for potential interactions with your diabetes drugs that could cause hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.

Supplements

Dietary supplements being marketed for blood glucose control include Gymnema sylvestre, psyllium, garlic, cinnamon, cherry extract, and Chinese ginseng. Alpha-lipoic acid, evening primrose oil, ginkgo biloba, and chelation therapy also are purported to treat or prevent the major complications of diabetes. But be aware that there is little or no research showing that any of these treatments is beneficial for people with diabetes.

What's more, because the FDA does not regulate supplements, there's no guarantee these products are free of toxic contaminants or that they contain the amount of active ingredients listed on the label. You can avoid these problems by buying supplements that meet U.S. Pharmacopeia standards (look for the USP symbol) or by checking results from ConsumerLab, an independent testing laboratory, at www.consumerlab.com. Keep an eye on your pocketbook, too. Many unproven remedies are sold at high prices to make them appear more valuable.

Vitamins and minerals

Some vitamins and minerals such as vanadium and chromium are advertised as beneficial for people with diabetes. But as you read in the section on dietary measures, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend vitamin and mineral supplements for people with diabetes unless they have vitamin or mineral deficiencies. If you do decide to take vitamins and minerals, be sure you purchase brands that meet U.S. Pharmacopeia standards.

Publication Review By: Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 21 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 10 Mar 2015