Alternative supplements used in Type 1 Diabetes

Anyone who is Type 1 or 1.5, have you tried any complementary or alternative supplements that have helped?
Some I have read about are cinnamon, fenugreek, aloha linolic acid, bitter melon, milk thistle for liver, etc…
Even though, I am Type 1 and very trim, I still lose insulin sensitivity sometimes. This is tough to deal with so I was wondering about supplements.

1 Like

The supplements you list are the sort which improve insulin action, such as chromium, but the real problem n diabetes is the disconnect between blood sugar control and the development of complications. Many patients, for example, have excellent blood sugar control but develop severe complications quickly, while others with poor control never develop complications. Only a third of type 1 diabetics develop kidney failure, for example, but the blood sugar control in this group is no worse on average than in other groups, yet this is the most devastating complication. The latest evidence indicates that renal failure in diabetics may well be caused by genetic factors inherited along with the factors which dispose patients to develop diabetes in the first place. So the question is, what can you do to keep the complications at bay in addition to blood sugar control?

For this there are many supplements with promise, and if you check ‘Pubmed’ for various supplements and their associated complications plus the search term ‘diabetic’ or ‘diabetes,’ you will find a lot of peer-reviewed scientific studies examining their effectiveness. Since the damage done by hyperglycemia operates through the mechanism of inflammation, and many supplements help reduce inflammation (e. g., such as vitamin E, krill oil, omega-3), they are certainly worth a try. There are also now some drug interaction checkers on the internet which list drug-supplement interactions, have a look at this as well.

1 Like

I know how you feel. I also wish that some had shown actual scientific value.

Unfortunately, there is no supplement so far that has been proven and recognized effective for diabetes purposes (although lack of many elements can worsen our conditions). There are doubtful studies for many.

On the other hand, I am sure that the non-diabetic members of your extended family have a million stories about wondrous working supplements - mine do - as does the reader’s digest.


Six months after my daughter’s T1 diagnosis, we tried some Chinese herbs and acutonics (instead of acupuncture - she hates needles :(. ) These were given by a MD who studied both Western and Chinese medicine. Of course, the insulin and frequent glucose testing carried on as usual - the herbs and acutonics were to help Kate relax, control adrenaline etc. As a relaxation it helped a bit. The glucose numbers did not improve at all, and we gave it all up after three months.

I did try fenugreek once and ate a russet potato. It took forever for the carbs to kick in and my glucose dropped from the insulin. So basically it slowed the digestion of carbs but it was not of help bc I couldnt time my insulin !!!

1 Like

Thanks. I tried acupuncture too. Worked only transiently.

Everyone seems to be focusing on improving blood sugar control as the sole way to avoid complications, and perhaps using supplements to enhance control, but the essential point to keep in mind is that there is a mismatch between blood sugar control and complications. Many people with excellent control die young from kidney failure, while many people with extremely poor control prove resistant to complications, so we need to consider other methods as well for protection.

It is simply not true that supplements have been proven useless to prevent diabetic complications. The problem is that there is a power issue here, and the medical establishment does not want patients circumventing the power of doctors and the power of Big Pharma to buy relatively inexpensive supplements and avoid paying money to physicians for appointments or to Big Pharma for absurdly expensive prescription drugs. Often this power prejudice manifests itself in clinical studies which examine the effects of absurdly small amounts of vitamins, find no effect, and then scream to the rooftops that vitamins are useless.

There are in fact so many honest studies proving the value of vitamins in addressing diabetic complications that listing them all would be impossible. But the way many of them work is this: Hyperglycemia causes damage by generating inflammation, and inflammation produces reactive oxygen species, or ROS, which are harmful. But many vitamins oppose inflammation and reduce ROS, and so by this mechanism they block complications by an alternative route to difficult and potentially lethal strict blood sugar control.

Consider just one single article among hundreds: M. Haidara, et al., “Evaluation of the Effect of Oxidative Stress and Vitamin E Supplementation on Renal Function … in Type 1 Diabetes,” vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 130-136 (2009), which documented positive results in delaying renal failure in type 1 diabetes.

I love it!
I was thinking the same thing about the supplements and Pharma Co. because it makes sense. Why is Fenugreek a mainstay treatment for diabetes in some countries like Australia but not US? Just for an example. Why won’t the FDA intercede to check purity of supplements? Because they were cheap natural and did not promote industry for innovation and development… They don’t want them to work.

As a side note, I have read about the antioxidant effect of Ginger on in renal studies. I think that I am going to start vitamin E.

I have heard all the claims over the years and I am coming up on my 47th year this month. And the only supplements/vitamins I have taken was folic acid during pregnancies, vitamin D due to a D deficiency and now calcium due to old age. My thinking here is if something “cured” or reduced insulin levels, everyone would know about it and be using them.
My other huge concern is there is now control over the vitamin/supplement industry, so you might not be getting what you think you are getting. Kind of scary thought for me.
I smile every time someone tells me cinnamon can help my diabetes or chromium can reduce insulin levels.


Have you tried cinnamon or chromium? Just curious.

Like most articles on the value of supplements, this one is not on humans (but rats), comes from a very weak research hospital (all authors but one come from Cairo University, Egypt), and has not been followed up by any further development (published 2009):

There is limited value to some supplements for some people. Like many, I used to have a cabinet full of them. As more scientific information has come out infirming their value, I have progressively pared them down to almost nothing.

The sad fact is that, as much as we would like to find natural solutions to the major problems created by diabetes, there aren’t any that have been found so far. Let’s not fool ourselves, or others, with hyped information about worthless supplements. That is how numberless charlatans make a lot of money out of the credulity of uninformed diabetics (or others).


It makes me a bit angry - because you and I are not fooled, but many others are. Some people profit heartlessly from the misery and ignorance of others.

1 Like

There are so many scientific, peer-reviewed studies showing the benefits of supplements to combat the complications of type 1 diabetes in humans that it would be an exhaustive effort for any one person to type them all and summarize them. But I’ll just cite a few to give people a general idea:

F. Chiarelli, et al., “Circulating Monocyte Chemoattractant Protein-1 and Early Development of Nephropathy in Type 1 Diabetes,” Diabetes Care, 25 (10) 1829-1834 (2002)

“Long-term treatment with high-dose vitamin E significantly decreased MCP [harmful] [in patients with type 1 diabetes] thus providing a rational basis for evaluating vitamin E supplementation as therapy … .”

W. Engelein, et al., “Effects of Long-Term Supplementation with Moderate Pharmacologic Doses of Vitamin E … in Patients with Type 1 Diabetes,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72 (5) 1142-1149 (2000)

Vitamin E counteracts increased LDL (low density lipoprotein) oxidation in diabetes and so “life-long supplementation with vitamin E should be considered in patients with type 1 diabetes.”

T. Costacou, et al., “Oxidative Stress and Response Relation to Coronary Heart Disease in Type 1 Diabetes,” Diabetes Care, 36 (1) 3503-3509 (2003)

Alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) levels are associated with lower incidence of cardio-vascular disease in type 1 diabetics.

T. Costacou, et al., “Antioxidants and Cardio-Vascular Disease Among Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes: Findings from the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study,” Journal of Diabetes Complications, 20 (6) 387-394 (2006)

“… a protective effect of alpha-tocopherol against cardio-vascular disease was observed among anti-oxidant supplement users … and in renal disease.”

A. Ceriello, et al., “Vitamin E Reduction of Protein Glycosylation in Diabetes. A New Prospect for Prevention of Complications?” Diabetic Complications, 14 (1) 68-72 (1991)

“These results demonstrate that vitamin E administration may reduce glycosylation in diabetic subjects independently of changes in plasma glucose … . Long-term studies may establish the usefulness of vitamin E administration for prevention of diabetic complications.”

So these are just a very, very few of the studies which could be cited. Although many are tentative in conclusions, this is in part the reticence typical of all medical journal article claims, but even if the results are not thoroughly confirmed yet, since most supplements are harmless, and the complications are developing right now, I don’t feel I can afford to wait for full effectiveness to be established twenty or thirty years from now, when I would be dead even if I were healthy.


“There are so many unconfirmed scientific, peer-reviewed studies showing tentative benefits of supplements that have never been confirmed and followed by any satisfactory proof of worthwhile benefits to PWDs” would be more correct to me. I would challenge anyone to show just one such study (that has been confirmed and followed by a satisfactory proof of worthwhile benefits) :slight_smile:

And, as assumed by the statement above, none of the studies linked above show confirmed and satisfactory proof of worthwhile benefits to diabetics. Let’s look at each of them.

As shown by your own quote, this one was so inconclusive that it could only “give a rational basis for evaluating vitamin E supplementation”, in other words, no proof and no benefits :slight_smile:

The study you cite shows zero improvement to diabetes outcomes. In fact, it does not even evaluate them.
Furthermore, since the understanding of the roles of LDL and HDL is now in the process of being drastically revised, and many questions are now raised as to what exactly they mean to patients, it is very unlikely that increasing LDL oxidation in diabetes would be seen today by anyone as having a causal relationship to actual health improvement to diabetics.

You forgot to include the key sentence there: “None of the antioxidant measures (α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol, retinol, TAR) showed protection against incident CAD overall.” This means there was no effect correlated to the amount taken.

How do the authors of the studies feel about their own findings? Do they feel this it warrants using these supplements? No. Their conclusion: “The specificity of these effects merits further investigation.” I don’t see that a very strong endorsement of your own study!

This 1991 publication has no follow-up studies or confirmation, nor consequences in terms of recommendations by any diabetes organizations. Ceriello himself never followed up: if you enter “Ceriello” and “Vitamin E” in Google Scholar you will find no followup to THIS study or further work on proof of efficacy with PWDs. I surmise that no long-term studies established the usefulness of vitamin E administration for prevention of diabetic complications after all :slight_smile:

So, as you can see, none of these studies held up under scrutiny.

The reticence is due to the scientific process and the need for a standard of proof. They simply do not show the required proof of benefits to PWDs.

Here we both agree. If you would want to do so, it is a reasonable choice to decide that, even though there is no proof of effectiveness but only tentative possibilities, it is worth taking some supplements because the alternative has no upside.

I do want, however, to tell you the story of a very close friend who was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. After 6 months of standard medicine and no improvement, he decided to go to an “immunotherapy” clinic in Texas, well known for its very high claims, its lack of scientific proof, and its very high prices (125K per treatment). I spent a few days researching it. He got irritated with me, the poor guy, and told me: “I understand that it is likely balloney. But what is my alternative?” I could not fault him. He went to the clinic, spent $125K, and died 4 months later.

So you should feel free to spend your money on these supplements. And who knows? There is always a chance that one of them will work for you!

But none of that warrants stating there is proof that any such supplements materially improve mainstream diabetes outcomes, though. That is simply not true!


Do not underestimate what hope can do for people. Choosing to use alternate methods alongside mainstream (approved) ways is not a bad thing.


Take a look at PubMed, using search terms of ‘type 1 diabetes,’ ‘complications,’ and the name of any supplement you choose. You will find hundreds of studies in total showing positive benefits. The very fact that many of these promising studies does not show that they have been debunked, since, as you probably know, medical journals are largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and they have no interest in relatively inexpensive supplements achieving results that they can’t achieve with their hyper-expensive, patent-protected medications.

I could go through the work of searching out more peer-reviewed articles and summarizing the key results for you, but I don’t think it would do any good.

1 Like

Conspiracy theories are the argument of theories that can’t prove themselves.

A simple example is the basic counter-argument to those who say that such a conspiracy exists: ORT (Oral Rehydration Therapy), a cheap DIY remedy, a way to radically decrease the death rate of cholera and many other dehydration-causing sicknesses, is featured in large numbers of research papers and on

In fact, I only asked for one good one, (a) confirmed, and (b) proving direct benefits to PWDs. But there is no such thing.

That said, again, I don’t think it is unreasonable to decide to take supplements, since the alternative (beyond doing what standard treatment requires) is to accept complications. But it is wrong to encourage people to take them “because they will improve diabetes outcomes.” There is no such proof. The best one can say is – who knows, they may help. Or not.


Just because the search returns hundreds of results, doesn’t mean they prove anything. So far you haven’t been able to show anything, you’ve only picked the studies that don’t prove much. How did you manage to pick exactly those inconclusive studies from the supposedly hundreds of results that prove supplements are beneficial?


Why yes, of course. Cinnamon is quite delicious, and the chromium details on my car are quite beautiful.

But I treat my lack of endogenous insulin primarily with exogenous insulin.


What we need is some meta-analyses!
I’m on a pump so 100% believe in the power of insulin for me :slight_smile:
However-I do use supplements to help with my overall well-being…which in turn helps me cope with life…which in turn helps my D management.
Without chromium I have sugar cravings through the roof, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. I have a wonderful doctor who had blood tests done for me to measure my levels.
I also use N-acetylcysteine as my body has a tendency to get a sluggish liver which affects how my body deals with carbs.
I don’t care if it’s a placebo effect-it works for me. I think anything that helps us cope/manage a really tricky illness is ok in my books.