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Herbs and Supplements for Diabetes: Harmful or Helpful?

June 27, 2019

When people are diagnosed with diabetes, most will try to do what they can to help their health. This usually means working with their doctor to monitor their blood glucose levels and trying to eat in a healthy way. But some turn to alternative medicine supplements, seeking a “silver bullet” to treat their diabetes. While much of alternative medicine supports the research-based practices of healthy diet, exercise, and stress management, some supplements promise more than they deliver:




For example, cinnamon (specifically cassia cinnamon commonly sold in the US) supposedly helps lower blood glucose levels, according to some. However, there is no research to support this, and in fact, cassia cinnamon contains a small amount of coumarin, which can affect your liver. For most people, the small amount of coumarin is no big deal, but if you have liver disease and consume higher than normal quantities of cassia cinnamon, this could make your liver disease worse.

Vitamin D


2014 study with over 43,000 participants showed that while low vitamin D levels often were linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, supplementing with vitamin D didn’t seem to prevent diabetes in those adults with normal vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also didn’t reduce blood glucose levels in adults with prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. However, a 2019 Brazilian study suggests that vitamin D can make you more sensitive to insulin which might lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

There’s little conclusive research about alternative supplements and their ability to help diabetes or prevent diabetes complications, but evidence exists which shows a number of potential side effects. However, the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health is funding new research to determine if other alternative medicine practices might be helpful for people with diabetes:


  • Components of grape skin on blood sugar control
  • Chelation therapy [the removal of heavy metals from the body] on heart health in people who have diabetes and have had a heart attack
  • Marijuana on the body’s metabolism and risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Acupuncture on painful diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) in underserved patients. (NCCIH, 2018)

Fraudulent claims about alternative dietary supplements for diabetes can be life-threatening, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), particularly if a person with diabetes chooses to use alternative supplements rather than research-based treatments that have proven effective in managing blood glucose levels. Another problem is possible interaction with prescribed medications, so you must be upfront with your doctor about any dietary supplements you decide to take.


A diabetes diagnosis can’t be resolved by simply taking a pill. It requires your commitment to proven practices, like healthy lifestyle habits and blood glucose monitoring. Alternative dietary supplements don’t have the research yet to back them up, and sometimes their side effects or interactions with prescribed drugs might hurt you. Your doctor and healthcare team offer the support you need to make managing diabetes safe and successful.

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Nan Kuhlman


Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.

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