Diabetes Treatment: Is There an Alternative?
About half of those with diabetes use alternative therapies. These include acupuncture, meditation, and vitamins. Most—almost one-third—use dietary supplements, while about one-fourth take herbal therapies.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes a wide variety of treatments outside the medical mainstream. Complementary treatments are used alongside conventional medical treatments, while alternative therapies are used to replace mainstream treatments. But is it really possible for CAM to help with diabetes?
What the science says
Many alternative therapies haven't been well studied. But scientists are beginning to conduct research to test their effects. Here's what they've found:
Chromium, an essential element, seems to improve blood glucose control in people with diabetes.
The herb fenugreek, green tea, and fiber supplements show promise for steadying blood glucose in small studies. They also have other health benefits, such as preventing heart disease and cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish oils—improve blood vessel function, finds a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They can also lower heart risks.
Other supplements used for diabetes, including bitter melon and vanadium, probably don't work.
Research is under way to test how yoga and a type of energy healing called Reiki, among other alternative treatments, affect diabetes.
Before you try alternatives
Some alternative treatments interact with your prescription drugs or medical conditions. Fenugreek, for example, can cause bleeding after surgery. And some herbs to treat other diseases are risky if you have diabetes. For example, ginseng is used to boost the immune system but may also cause dangerous drops in blood glucose.
Talk with your doctor about the benefits, risks, and side effects of using CAM. Make a list of the supplements you take, including dosages. Or bring the bottles to your appointment in a brown bag. Never replace your conventional therapy with an alternative without checking first with your health care team.