Using Common Sense With Supplements

Vitamins and herbal supplements have fascinated me since I became an adult. So when I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the first thing I did was look through the home-remedy books on my shelves for something that would help.

Next I visited the health-food store and bought a few of the recommended herbs. There were so many I could not afford to try them all. The results were disappointing.


But doing some Internet searches built up my hopes again. Website after website claimed to have an answer, an actual cure, and they offered to give my money back if I was not satisfied.

For years I tried the remedies. I have no idea how much money I spent. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the herbal products did not improve my blood sugar or help me lose weight or do any of the things promised.

There is nothing wrong with looking for healthful ways to deal with chronic conditions, but what I needed was a dose of common sense.

My experience with herbal supplements and website promises has taught me valuable lessons. The first is this: If someone claims to have found the diabetes cure in a special mixture that you can buy only from them, they are not telling the truth.

It should have been obvious, right? But the carefully built-up hype was hard to resist for a while. People like me have made some slick salesmen rich by letting them play on our fears and abuse our hopes.

Digging deeper into the world of self-medicating through supplements led to another valuable lesson. Take the example of a simple supplement like cinnamon. It has been shown to help control blood glucose levels in some studies.

But how much is safe, and what kind? There are actually two kinds of cinnamon. One type, cassia cinnamon, contains high levels of the blood thinner coumarin, while the other type, Ceylon cinnamon, does not. In people taking large doses of cinnamon or those with liver issues or who are on a blood-thinning medicine, the coumarin content could be a concern.

If a simple thing like cinnamon can potentially be dangerous, what dangers lie in other supplements? Even vitamin and mineral suplements can be a minefield.

For instance, too much of one vitamin or mineral can block the body’s ability to use another one. Fat-soluble vitamins like A and D are dangerous in large amounts. Too much vitamin C can cause stomach problems.

Because I still believe in vitamins, I take one vitamin/mineral supplement that is made from whole foods. It makes my life simpler, but I have no way of knowing whether it is helping me in any way. It is a choice.

Here is another important thing to remember when you hear about a “miracle supplement” with stories of those it has helped: Every person is different. Whether it is a medicine or supplement, you and I may have totally opposite reactions to it.

For an extreme example, I have a son-in-law who cannot drink plain water. It is an actual allergic reaction with violent stomach cramps. The fact is you cannot know how you will react to any medicine or supplement until you have tried it.

This is a simple fact of life, and it illustrates why common sense is important as you listen to advertising or when you stumble across some new supplement that promises to help you feel better.

One simple rule when you want to add any supplement to your diet — tell your doctors what you are doing. They can help you adjust medicines if you need to. And if there are side effects, they can help you with those as well.

The most useful advice I can give is to remind you that there are two things you can do to improve your outcomes with Type 2 diabetes. These two methods improve blood sugar levels and quality of life, plus they cost less than chasing Internet “cures”: Find a healthful way of eating that you can stick with, and become as active as you can. Those are the only two changes I have made that actually have improved my diabetic complications.

I gave up buying silly supplements, concentrating instead on a walking program and learning how to eat better. It was a giant step in the right direction.


    One thing I’ve learned about suppliments is to read the label. Many contain other active ingredients besides the main product. For example, I take a calcium citrate tablet that also has magnesium and vitamin D as well as other vitamins and minerals that are not listed on the front label.

  • Brian Welch

    Hello Martha, as a type 2 diabetic myself, I used to work at a GNC. The one supplement I would recommend taking is Casein Protein. It is a slow absorbing protein that will keep your sugar stable. It works for me, I always make it the last thing I drink/eat at night. Gets rid of the whole “dawn phenomenon” thing. I switch between that and soy, but take casein more.