herbs-and-diabetesStudies indicate that many people use dietary supplements or herbal remedies for health reasons, but can these alternatives help manage diabetes? And, most importantly, are supplements or herbs for diabetes safe?

In general, there is not a lot of solid research to go on when trying to evaluate different supplements or herbs for diabetes. Most of these products are unregulated substances that do not undergo any type of FDA or other regulatory approval process, and ingredients can vary in quantity and quality, which is especially problematic.

Here are some of the most commonly used supplements and herbs used to manage type 2 diabetes that you may have heard about:

Bitter melon
Green tea
Bilberry extract
Aloe vera juice
Prickly pear cactus
Fenugreek seeds
Ayurvedic gurmar
Thiamine (B1)
Coenzyme Q10
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)

Before you run out to the local health food store to buy any of these, you need to be aware that “natural” does not necessarily mean effective or safe, especially when it comes to treating diabetes. If you are interested in trying one of these products, here are some suggestions:

1) Use caution and always do your homework. Research anything you are considering trying and then be SURE to discuss it with your doctor or diabetes educator. Serious side effects or interactions with other medications you are taking can occur, so your doctor MUST know of anything you are taking for your safety. Some doctors are more open to trying alternatives for controlling blood sugar, but you have to be honest about anything you are taking or are interested in trying. Ask questions and explain to your doctor why you want to try the product.

2) If you do get the green light, try just one new substance at a time and carefully monitor your blood sugar. Keep a list of anything you’re taking or, better yet, bring the actual bottle with you to the doctor.

3) Be sure to read the labels carefully– some supplements have added sugar which means that you’ll want to avoid them- and pay attention to the complete list of ingredients and recommended dose.

4) There are some safeguards with supplements– you can contact a manufacturer directly to ask questions (the number should be listed on the bottle) and there are some independent organizations such as Consumer Lab, the Consumers Union, NSC International or U.S. Pharmacopeia that perform tests to ensure label accuracy.

In conclusion, an alternative treatment may be something you want to consider for managing your type 2 diabetes, but use caution, keep testing and always talk to your doctor first!

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