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Diabetes Symptoms and Information

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4. What should people do if they have diabetes and are considering using any CAM therapy?

  • People with diabetes need to be under the care of a physician or other health care provider who will help them learn to manage their diabetes and will monitor their efforts to control it. Dietitians and diabetes educators help people learn and use the skills needed for managing diabetes on a daily basis. In addition, many patients need to be under the care of one or more specialists, such as an endocrinologist, an ophthalmologist, and/or a podiatrist.

  • It is important to not replace scientifically proven treatments for diabetes with CAM treatments that are unproven. The consequences of not following one's prescribed medical regimen for diabetes can be very serious, even life-threatening.

  • People with diabetes should tell their health care provider about any dietary supplements or medications (prescription or over-the-counter) that they are using or considering. Prescribed medicines for diabetes and all other major health conditions may need to be adjusted if a person is also using a CAM therapy. Pharmacists can be another helpful source of information about dietary supplements.

  • If they decide to use supplements, they should know that what they see on the label may not accurately reflect what is in the bottle. Some herbal supplements, for example, have been found to be contaminated; some tests of dietary supplements have found that the contents did not match the labeled dose on the bottle. The NCCAM Clearinghouse (see "For More Information") has publications on this topic.

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who are thinking of using supplements to treat a child, should use extra caution and be sure to consult their health care provider.

  • If people with diabetes decide to use a supplement and notice any unusual effects, they should stop and contact their health care provider.

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5. What is known about the safety and effectiveness of these six dietary supplements as CAM treatments for diabetes?

Below is a brief overview of each dietary supplement and what is known from research about its effectiveness and safety in use for diabetes.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA, also known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid) is a chemical that is similar to a vitamin. It is an antioxidant--a substance that prevents cell damage caused by substances called free radicals in a process called oxidative stress. High levels of blood glucose are one cause of oxidative stress. ALA is found in some foods, such as liver, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. ALA can also be made in the laboratory. ALA supplements are marketed as tablets or capsules.c It is theorized that ALA may be beneficial because of its antioxidant activity.

c There is some use, reported from outside the United States, of ALA delivered intravenously (IV). These trials are not discussed in this report.

Summary of the research findings
The evidence on ALA for type 2 diabetes and obesity is limited. There are a number of small studies in animals and in people that have shown hints of beneficial effects. In a few of these studies, some possible benefit from ALA was seen in glucose uptake in muscle; sensitivity of the body to insulin; diabetic neuropathy; and/or weight loss. More research is needed to document whether there is any benefit of ALA in diabetes and to better understand how ALA works.

Side effects and possible risks
While ALA appears to be safe for the general adult population, people with diabetes need to know that ALA might lower blood sugar too much, and thus they would need to monitor their blood sugar level especially carefully. ALA may also lower blood levels of minerals, such as iron; interact with some medicines, such as antacids; and decrease the effectiveness of some anti-cancer drugs. Other possible side effects of ALA include headache, skin rash, and stomach upset.


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