What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar levels are above normal. People with diabetes have problems using food for energy. After a meal, carbohydrates in food are broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body. Cells require insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, to help use blood glucose for energy.

People develop diabetes because the pancreas does not make enough insulin (type I diabetes) or because the cells in the muscles, liver and fat do not respond to insulin properly (type II diabetes), or both. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy.

Diabetes is a serious condition and should be monitored by your doctor.


Symptoms of diabetes include:

Frequent urination

Extreme thirst

Extreme hunger

Weight loss



Blurred vision

Frequent infections

Erectile dysfunction (impotence)

Slow healing of cuts and sores

Diabetes needs to be treated by a doctor. Do not self-medicate with herbs and supplements.

A word of caution: Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement or herb. You have no way of knowing if your herb or supplement interferes with a health condition you have or a medication you take. You do not know about the purity or quality of a supplement, and much of the research on these substances is scant and questionable. Also, supplements in high concentrations can be dangerous. Your doctor is the best person to talk with about your concerns.

Herb or Supplement


Potential Interactions, Side Effects and Dangers

What the Experts Say


Prevents or treats diabetes

If you have severe heart disease or kidney disease, you should not take this. If your symptoms are severe, stop taking the supplement and call your doctor right away. Can cause stomach bleeding, irregular heartbeats, trouble breathing, tingling in your feet or lips, anxiety, or tiredness. Can also cause a sick to the stomach feeling, throwing up, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Take the supplement with meals with water or juice.

Magnesium is important for helping the body use insulin and burning carbs. Some studies have found a connection between people who don’t get enough magnesium and the risk of type I and type II diabetes. However, this has not been proven and researchers aren’t sure if magnesium worsens blood sugar control in people with type II or whether diabetes causes magnesium shortfalls. Stick to getting magnesium in food.


Helps insulin get blood sugar into cells.

If you take large doses, you may have stomach problems, damage to the liver, nerves and kidneys, or irregular heart beat. Call your doctor immediately. May interact with steroids such as prednisone. Talk to your doctor before taking this. Side effects are rare, but may include low blood sugar.

There is a link between low levels of chromium and diabetes, but exactly how is unclear. Some studies show chromium won’t help diabetes, but other research says it may help lower blood sugar levels for type II diabetes and lower the need for insulin in those with type I diabetes. Skip the supplement and get chromium from food.


Helps lower blood sugar levels and improve problems such as frequent urination, nerve pain and skin infections.

May cause an allergic reaction – facial swelling, numbness and trouble breathing. May increase the risk of bleeding. May affect the thyroid. May interfere with prescription medications. Few side effects. May cause dizziness, diarrhea and gas.

Studies have been small. Until the results of better studies are released, experts cannot recommend it at this time.

Dietary changes

Your dietitian will work with you to develop a diet that fits your lifestyle and helps control your diabetes. You will learn how foods and their timing affect your blood sugar control. If you need to lose weight, your dietitian will develop a plan to do just that. Remember, the most effective partner in your health care is you.