A Pharmacist’s Guide to Herbs and Supplements for Diabetes

Always inform your healthcare professional about any and all herbals or supplements that you may be taking.

The use of traditional and nontraditional medicines and therapies for diabetes has grown tremendously in the last few years.

In fact, one of the most commonly used medications for type 2 diabetes, metformin, is actually derived from the flowering plant Galega officinalis, also known as goat’s rue or French lilac.

Each month, this column will introduce a different herb or supplement, explain how it can help with diabetes control, cite relevant research studies, and discuss how it should be used.

In addition, the column will address potential side effects and drug interactions and give overall recommendations regarding the product.

Just Because It’s for Sale Does Not Mean It’s Safe

People with diabetes should consider the following when taking supplements:

  • Although many dietary supplements are considered “natural,” they have active medicinal properties. Therefore, they may have side effects or could interact with other medications or dietary supplements.
  • It is important to let your doctor know what dietary supplements you are taking. Sometimes the dose of your regular diabetes medicines may need to be adjusted. It is equally important to let your doctor know if you stop using the supplement.
  • Do not stop taking your regular diabetes medicines without discussing it first with your doctor.
  • Use only pure, standardized products from reputable companies. Buy from companies that invest in clinical research and that are willing to answer your questions and show proof from the studies they have done.
  • Take only one product at a time to determine your body’s response. Evaluate any effect the supplement has on your blood glucose or other indicators of health, such as blood pressure or cholesterol.
  • Discontinue dietary supplements one or two weeks before surgery, since they may affect blood pressure, interact with anesthesia or cause bleeding. 
  • Although dietary supplements may help diabetes, they are not miraculous “cure alls” or substitutes for healthy eating, exercise or traditional diabetes medications.

What’s In Store?

In the coming months, this column will profile these plant-derived products, among others:
• Cinnamon
• Gymnema sylvestre
• Fenugreek
• Bitter melon
• Ginseng
• Nopal
• Ivy gourd
• Holy basil
• Fig leaf
• Milk thistle
• Aloe vera
• Pycnogenol
• Garlic
• Evening primrose oil
• Bilberry
• Ginkgo biloba

Some products not derived from plants that will be discussed include alpha-lipoic acid, chromium, vanadium, and CoQ10.

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