Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Reader Question: Diabetes & Alternative Treatments?

A reader asked me what alternatives he has to taking prescription medication for managing diabetes.
Hi, Sammy.

The short answer: I have not seen substantial evidence-based science supporting supplements for diabetes management. I must tell you that I err on the side of caution. Having said that, there are things you should consider.

1. How's your weight? If overweight, lose it. Excess fat makes the body resist the action of insulin, which is the hormone that helps control blood sugar.

2. Do you exercise on most days of the week? If you are cleared for physical activity, then do it. We know that aerobic exercise, like walking or biking, helps lower blood sugar. Just don’t exercise and skip meals because your blood sugar could drop dangerously low.

3. Do you eat fiber? Fiber slows digestion and prevents blood sugar from spiking. Aim for about 30 grams of fiber daily. Read food labels. You want the first ingredient of grain products to say "whole grain." And eat a lot of whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. Wash them well and eat the skin if possible.

4. How do you find cinnamon? There’s a scant amount of research saying cinnamon might lower blood sugar—as well as cholesterol. You can add cinnamon to coffee and whole grain cereals (i.e., oatmeal), among other things.

5. Have you ever seen a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) or a Registered Dietitian (RD)? You can locate a CDE via the American Association of Diabetes Educators at and an RD from the American Dietetic Association at Interview them on the phone to get an understanding of their views on alternative medicine. You want a practitioner who understands your wishes.

Other nutrients are mentioned alongside diabetes. Those include chromium and magnesium. Both may help insulin do its job. But answering the question of “Should I take a supplement?” is no easy task simply because the science doesn’t support it one way or the other. If you decide to take supplements of these nutrients, make sure your doctor knows.

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