Its seems my Facebook feed is once again blowing up with “Sponsored” posts from bloggers and sellers toting the latest “Supplements to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes.”

On a regular basis I meet people of all ages that come into my office with fear, anger or dread in their eyes after they’ve received the initial diagnosis from their doctor.

Others come in with pure denial.

I can tell who hasn’t come to terms with their diagnosis when they immediately start asking questions like:

How long will I need to be on these meds?

Can I get rid of diabetes?

What about cinnamon? I heard I can take that instead.”

When it comes to supplements and diabetes, let’s be honest, the research isn’t there to support any conclusive evidence that any one supplement helps. But that’s what makes dietitians so stuffy, we like scientific research, preferably done on people in double blind studies. I know, I know, we take the fun out of everything.

The concerning thing with supplements for me is that a majority of people I speak with do not believe there is any harm in dietary supplements because they’re “natural.” Unfortunately though there are many documented cases linking supplements to kidney disease, which is a double bummer since uncontrolled diabetes is the number one cause of kidney damage. Dietary supplements can also interfere with medicines, other supplements and reek havoc on the GI symptom if you over do it.

More does not equal better.

It usually equals abdominal pain and diarrhea. 

Cinnamon for example if it contains coumarin vs the helpful cassia can cause liver damage and interfere with some blood thinners. But who the heck knows if their average grocery store cinnamon contains coumarin?? And while I enjoy cinnamon on my oatmeal or a sprinkle in my latte, I have yet to be able to consume 1-2 tsp of the spice DAILY. Perhaps if the cinnamon was in a cookie form I could, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

The list of supplements seems endless for diabetes. There’s Asian ginseng, American ginseng, sweet potato (the supplement- not the potato…weird), fenugreek (can’t help think about my breastfeeding days), milk thistle, nettle, prickly pear cactus (I had a prickly pear cactus martini in Sedona, AZ once…but again I don’t think that counts and defeats the purpose), Gymnema sylvestre (as a rule don’t go there if you can’t pronounce or spell it), aloe vera, garlic, bitter melon and more.

Chances are if you are asking about one of the above supplements, no matter what I say you are going to check one or more out.

So I lead people to Chromium and Magnesium. Both are essential trace minerals. Chromium helps the body use glucose more efficiently. Magnesium also helps the body process the glucose. A Mg deficiency has actually been shown to increase your risk of developing diabetes.

The magnesium research however points to magnesium rich FOODS having a greater impact of diabetes management and prevention than magnesium supplements. Foods rich in Mg include leafy greens, nuts and whole grains.

Which brings me to Ted*. A patient not too long ago, newly diagnosed with diabetes asking questions about alternative therapies and supplements. Ted, younger than me, in a sedentary job with the post high school spread interested in an Alkaline diet. Wanting to know the benefits of the bone broth his wife was feeding him every day.

I loved Ted.

I loved the fact that he was seeking out new nutrition territory.

I loved his wife for caring so much about him, she turned to google to “cure him from diabetes.” 

My advise to Ted before he left the office that day given that I knew his lifestyle and daily routine, that no matter which route he chose to control his diabetes he needed to 1. quit smoking and 2. give up the 12 pack of beer he drank everyday. It didn’t matter how much bone broth Ted consumed, without making those two major lifestyle changes, all the supplements in the world wouldn’t help.

So my question today is, before considering supplements is there one dietary or lifestyle change that could have a bigger impact on your health? Comment below. In the meantime, I think I’ll go snack on some nuts.