Supplements for Diabetes

Just over one in 10 people have diabetes in the United States. With so many individuals affected by this disease, people have sought natural remedies to better manage their diabetes.

Numerous claims have been made that dietary supplements can help to manage blood sugar levels and the complications of diabetes. Some studies have supported the potential benefits of supplements to help manage diabetes, and in other areas there is more research needed to better understand their effects"? Or "Some studies have supported the potential benefits of supplements to help manage diabetes. More research is needed in other areas to better understand their effects.

Your healthcare provider can help you weigh the risks and benefits of these supplements for your overall health.

woman looking at supplements

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Supplements Are Not a Replacement for Medication

Never stop taking your regular medication without instruction from your healthcare provider. Supplements are not meant to replace your diabetes medication.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a spice made from the inner bark of a type of tree known as Cinnamomum.

It is mainly now used to add flavor to food or aroma in scented products, but it has been used throughout history as a natural medicine.

Benefits

Cinnamon may help to:

  • Lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
  • Lower the blood sugar in people with prediabetes
  • Slow the progression to diabetes

Better blood sugar control could also help prevent the complications of uncontrolled diabetes.

What the Research Says

Research about the benefits of cinnamon on diabetes is mixed.

Some analyses have found no improvements in blood sugar control for people with diabetes. There have also been studies that show a modest improvement in both fasting blood glucose level and hemoglobin A1C tests while using cinnamon supplements.

How to Take

Most of the research studies used doses ranging from 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon per day.

One of the best ways to add cinnamon to your diet is by adding powdered cinnamon to your food or drinks. You can sprinkle it on:

  • Smoothies
  • Oatmeal
  • Tea

There are 2 to 3 grams in 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Side Effects and Warnings

Cinnamon can enhance the effectiveness of medication for diabetes and heart disease.

In small amounts, it can be safe to take, but be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider before changing the amount of cinnamon you have in your diet.

Use in Moderation

If you choose to have cinnamon, try adding small amounts to your food instead of taking a pill form, as a large dose of cinnamon at one time could affect your diabetes medications and cause low blood sugar.

Some forms of cinnamon contain the compound coumarin, which can worsen liver function in people who have liver disease.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is found in foods like fish, walnuts, and flaxseed.

Benefits

There are claims that omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the body, and some research supports that these types of fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

There are also some claims that it can help to prevent diabetes and the complications of uncontrolled blood sugar because of the reduction of inflammation and damage done to the cells.

What the Research Says

Research doesn’t support that omega-3 supplements can help to lower blood sugar levels, and one study found that high doses of omega-3s could worsen control over blood sugar.

Another study reported mixed findings on the impact of omega-3s on the development of type 2 diabetes. Some of the studies in the analysis reported an increased risk, while other studies showed a decreased risk for developing diabetes in people taking omega-3 supplements.

How to Take

Omega-3 supplements typically come in the form of pills and are best taken with meals to increase their absorption.

Side Effects and Warnings

Taking an omega-3 supplement can lead to side effects like:

  • Bad breath
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea

It can also interact with medicines that affect blood clotting.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral, which means we only need very small amounts of it to meet our needs.

It is naturally present in soil and can be found in both food and water. The amount will vary based on the area the water and food come from.

Benefits

It acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from damage. It also plays a role in metabolism and the health of the thyroid.

What the Research Says

There is no evidence that selenium supplements reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes.

One study even found an association between high serum selenium levels with the development of diabetes.

How to Take

Selenium is available in tablet forms, and the recommended daily allowance is 55 micrograms.

Side Effects and Warnings

High doses can lead to toxicity. The symptoms of selenium toxicity include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Brittle nails
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Chromium

Chromium is a trace mineral that is found in many different foods.

It’s rare to have a chromium deficiency, but if there is too little in the diet it can affect blood sugar control.

Benefits

Chromium helps insulin to function more efficiently and is used in glucose breakdown.

Chromium could help maintain better blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.

What the Research Says

There is some supportive evidence that the risk of getting type 2 diabetes was lower in people who took chromium supplements.

There is still not enough research to fully understand this relationship.

Research suggests that the added benefits of chromium supplements are only effective if there isn’t enough chromium in the diet.

How to Take

Recommended doses of chromium range from 200 to 1,000 micrograms per day; the recommended adequate intake for it is about 35 micrograms per day.

It is most often taken in pill form.

Side Effects and Warnings

When taken in large doses, chromium supplements cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating
  • Skin reactions

There is minimal research into the effects of long-term chromium supplement use, so it should be used with caution since it is also found in many foods.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant found in:

  • Yeast
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes

It is also made by the body and is used in every cell.

Benefits

Antioxidants protect the cells from damage by stabilizing free radicals before they can cause damage to cells.

Alpha-lipoic acid can be especially helpful to protect from damage to the nerves and eyes that can be a complication of diabetes.

What the Research Says

Research supports that Alpha-lipoic acid supplements can help to protect from diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) and diabetic retinopathy, which is a progressive condition in the eyes that can lead to blindness if blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled.

How to Take

There are limited guidelines for dosing for Alpha-lipoic acid. It is generally sold in 100- to 600-milligram pills.

Side Effects and Warnings

High doses of Alpha-lipoic acid could cause:

  • Digestive issues
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found in foods like:

  • Bran cereals
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Spinach

In the body, magnesium helps with muscle and nerve function as well as blood glucose and blood pressure control.

Benefits

Adequate magnesium intake may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes and help with better blood sugar control.

What the Research Says

Studies support that there is a relationship between magnesium deficiency and the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

There are some benefits of magnesium supplements shown in helping diabetic patients, but the research is limited and the studies are still too small to truly understand its effects.

How to Take

The recommended intake for magnesium can vary by age, but for adults, the range is typically between 300 to 400 milligrams per day—including both food and supplement sources.

Side Effects and Warnings

Excessive magnesium intake can cause abdominal symptoms like diarrhea and cramping.

Vitamin B-1

Thiamine—also known as vitamin B-1—helps the body to use carbohydrates for energy. It is also important for muscle contraction and helps nerves to communicate.

Benefits

Thiamine may help with blood glucose control and preventing the complications of uncontrolled diabetes, like nerve damage in the arms and legs.

What the Research Says

There is a small amount of research to support that thiamine can help to protect from the complications of diabetes.

How to Take

It can be taken in a pill with just thiamine or as part of a mixed vitamin like a multi-vitamin or B-complex.

Side Effects and Warnings

There are typically no side effects of having a large amount of thiamine because it is a water-soluble vitamin, and the excess can be excreted through urine.

American Ginseng

Ginseng is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine, and American ginseng is a type that grows primarily in North America.

Benefits

American ginseng is said to help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Increase energy
  • Treat diabetes

What the Research Says

Some research supports that American ginseng can help to reduce blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes, but these studies are limited by small sample sizes and short study lengths.

How to Take

It is available in pills or concentrated drops that can be mixed with water.

Side Effects and Warnings

American ginseng may interact with medications, and it affects multiple parts of the body.

It should be used with caution and could affect blood clotting.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for your health.

Numerous types of bacteria and yeast live within the human body and digestive tract, some good and some harmful for your health. Probiotics are good bacteria that help to protect your health, especially for the gut.

Benefits

Probiotics help with:

  • Gut health
  • Bowel regularity
  • Preventing yeast infections

It's possible probiotics can also help with glucose metabolism.

What the Research Says

An analysis of research studies suggested that consuming probiotics may help improve glucose metabolism and help with diabetes.

How to Take

Probiotics can be taken in capsule form or consumed in foods.

Food sources of probiotics include:

  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut

Side Effects and Warnings

Most people can take probiotics without any side effects, but there is the chance of:

  • Some digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Allergic reaction

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is best known for its gel form that is used on the skin to treat sunburns. It can also be used in juices or supplements.

Benefits

Aloe vera may help to improve blood glucose control and has been suggested to help treat people with diabetes.

What the Research Says

Current evidence suggests there is a potential benefit of using aloe vera to improve glycemic control in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

The research is limited by small sample sizes and lower-quality studies.

How to Take

To help with diabetes, aloe vera juice can be consumed.

There are no official recommendations for the dose because of the limited research.

Side Effects and Warnings

The research about the effects of aloe vera is still limited, and you should use caution before taking it. It could interact with medications you are taking, changing their effectiveness. 

Berberine

Berberine is a chemical found in multiple plants, including:

  • Tree turmeric
  • Oregon grape
  • Goldenseal

Benefits

Berberine could help lower:

  • Cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar levels

It can even be as effective as some drugs.

What the Research Says

Research supports that berberine can significantly help to lower blood glucose levels and help with lipid metabolism.

How to Take

It can be taken by mouth, and the typical doses are between 0.6 to 1.5 grams split up throughout the day.

Side Effects and Warnings

Berberine should not be taken with other diabetes medications because it could lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Do not stop taking or make changes to your diabetes medications without approval from your healthcare provider.

Berberine supplements can also cause diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and headaches.

Gymnema

Gymnema is a medicinal plant that has been used in traditional medicine. It has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that can be beneficial to health.

Benefits

It could help with reducing cravings for sweets, and there are claims it helps reduce obesity.

The powerful antioxidant effects could help to protect from diabetes complications.

What the Research Says

There is some research to support the benefits of Gymnema.

It could help with reducing weight, which can help with the sensitivity to insulin.

Also, its ability to suppress sweet taste could help reduce sugar intake. There is still more research needed to fully understand the impact of Gymnema on diabetes.

How to Take

Gymnema can be consumed as a:

  • Pill
  • Powder
  • Drink

Side Effects and Warnings

Gymnema can cause side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood sugar levels

Because Gymnema can interact with diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider before taking it.

A Word From Verywell

Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement, and follow their advice. There is limited research for most of these supplements, and they can have a big impact on your health.

Most of these supplements can also be found in foods. Eating a balanced diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies is important, and nutrition also helps with managing blood sugar levels.

More research is needed to fully understand the effects these supplements have on diabetes and your overall health. Use caution before starting supplements to learn how they can affect your health and any medications you are taking.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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