There are numerous dietary supplements that can aid in the treatment and management of diabetes. These typically work by increasing an individuals sensitivity to insulin, or by reducing some of the common symptoms of diabetes.
It is recommended you consult a doctor before beginning a supplement regime that includes one or more of the supplements below due to potential adverse reactions that can occur when certain supplements are combined with other medications.
#1 Alpha-lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an anti-oxidant that can help reduce glucose levels in the blood of diabetics, reducing the requirement for insulin. A German study, published in 1995, found that 1000mg of ALA increased the metabolic clearance rate of glucose in diabetic patients by almost 55%.
There is also some evidence that ALA may reduce both nerve damage and the risk of kidney failure, which often develops in diabetics who have been living with the disease for a long time. ALA is available in supplements, typically in 200mg capsules, and can also be found in certain foods including spinach, broccoli, yams, yeast, and animal organs such as the liver, kidney, and heart.
Diabetics tend to have much lower magnesium levels in the body. Magnesium deficiency is thought to be a potential risk factor for diabetes and supplementation of around 400mg a day has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in people who have already developed diabetes. Magnesium may also help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, particularly high blood pressure.
The graph to the right shows the results of a study published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2004 which calculated the risk of type-2 diabetes across different levels of magnesium consumption. The study found a 33% and 34% reduction in type-2 diabetes risk for men and women respectively who were in the top 20% for magnesium intake compared to the bottom 20%.
Magnesium rich foods include beans, spinach, broccoli, soy products, spinach, nuts, grains, and most varieties of fish. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 320mg for adult men and 270mg for adult women however diabetics may benefit from 400mg or more of magnesium a day.
#3 Biotin (Vitamin B7)
Biotin can help improve the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels by increasing the activity of an enzyme called glucokinase. Researchers have found that the higher an individuals blood sugar levels are, the lower their biotin levels tend to be.
Biotin supplementation may also improve peripheral neuropathy, which causes numbness in the hands and feet and is often seen in diabetic patients. In a trial conducted by Greek researchers at the University of Athens, biotin was given in high doses to 3 diabetics suffering from peripheral neuropathy which resulted in significant improvements in symptoms for all 3 patients.
Many diabetics are deficient in biotin so consumption of a wide variety of biotin rich foods is recommended. Biotin is found in many foods including corn, soy, nuts, cauliflower, milk, and eggs.
Chromium helps lower fasting blood glucose levels, raises “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and lowers triglyceride levels in the blood. A Chinese study found that those with a daily intake of 1,000mcg of chromium had significantly improved insulin control and lower blood-glucose levels two hours after a meal.
Zinc is a central element in the metabolism of insulin. Zinc and insulin can combine in the body to form zinc-hexamers. These hexamers are used for basal or “slow-release” insulin. The ability of the body to synthesize and secrete insulin is reduced when zinc levels in the body are very low. Laboratory studies in mice have shown that zinc can help promote both the production and action of insulin resulting in lower fasting glucose levels, and better glucose control after meals. Diabetics tend to excrete zinc at higher rates than non-diabetics so are at a greater risk of developing zinc deficiency.
Most meats provide an excellent source of zinc with oysters, beef, chicken, lobster, lamb and pork all rich in the mineral. Vegetarian sources of zinc include milk, cheese, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Diabetes sufferers tend to have lower manganese levels than other people. Manganese is an important component of key enzymes involved in the metabolism of glucose and therefore those who are deficient in manganese often have impaired glucose management.
A 2000 study, published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research, looked at the effects of manganese choloride on plasma glucose levels in diabetic rats. The researchers found that infusion of 8.3 µg/min of manganese chloride resulted in an average reduction in plasma glucose levels of 23%. Consumption of manganese rich foods at meal times could therefore help reduce post-meal spikes in glucose levels.
Manganese is poorly absorbed when the iron content of a meal is high so consider reducing red meat intake in order to get the most out of the mineral. Manganese is a neurotoxin in high doses however cases of toxicity typically occur following industrial exposure to the mineral, not through dietary sources. Manganese rich foods include pineapples, almonds, peanuts, spinach, brown rice, sweet potato, and tea.
The recommended daily intake of manganese is 2mg per day with a tolerable upper limit of 11mg per day. A multi-vitamin or single mineral supplement should contain no more than 5mg of manganese and should ideally be consumed when the largest meal of the day is eaten.
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