In the medical world vitamins are not generally considered a typical part of the treatment or prevention of diabetes but it turns out there is some very compelling research to suggest vitamins can and should be part of the blood sugar conversation. We have found through research and clinical practice that there are vitamins for diabetes that can play a role in preventing and treating this condition as well as some of the many complications that can accompany high blood sugars. In fact, we have so much to say on the topic that we have made this a two part blog!
In our discussion we will focus on type 2 Diabetes , also known as Adult Onset Diabetes (Type 1 is beyond the scope of this discussion and unfortunately is not typically a preventable condition). Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to process circulating blood sugar. The pancreas normally secretes insulin, a hormone that then helps metabolize sugar. Insulin is used like a key to unlock cells and let sugar go inside. This is how your body produces energy. When you are not able to do this blood sugar levels run high in your blood stream and you may get symptoms of fatigue, and/or excessive thirst and urination.
The good news is much of type 2 diabetes is sometimes preventable or at least controllable. There is a strong association between obesity and diabetes. Higher body weight seems to tax the pancreas and trigger the worsening of elevated sugars. This is in part due to insulin resistance. Fat cells do not allow insulin to work as well, essentially causing a rusty lock (to draw from the previous key analogy).
For this reason maintaining a normal body weight or losing weight if above normal, is key to diabetes prevention. Exercise is essential to burn off the sugar. Even walking 15 minutes daily can have a positive affect on blood sugars (especially if done right after eating). Keeping a diabetic diet is beyond the scope of this blog but typically involves minimizing simple carbs and ensuring an adequate balance of fats and proteins.
It is also important to understand that blood sugar issues have negative effects throughout the body. High blood sugars negatively affect the arteries, leading often to heart disease, eye problems (blindness is the extreme result), kidney problems, trouble fighting infections and nerve pain (neuropathy). The main goal of treating blood sugars is to prevent all of these complications. Traditional diabetes medications (both pills and insulin) typically address the blood sugars alone, but we may turn to vitamins to also help with some of the potential complications.
First we will discuss a few vitamins that are known to help reduce blood sugars and therefore slow the progression of mild blood sugars to overt diabetes. Do keep in mind that these are rarely a complete solution to this very significant problem, but rather a piece in the puzzle of diabetes. All of the vitamins we mention should be one component of a comprehensive program including diet, exercise and other medications your doctor may prescribe.
First off, there is some great data to suggest that vitamin D (one of our favorites) plays a role in blood sugar levels. One 2013 study showed that people with type 2 Diabetes tended to have lower Vitamin D levels. Those people with lower levels of D had worse control of blood sugar. The logical conclusion is that treating vitamin D deficiency should reduce rates of diabetes and improve glucose control in those who have it. Whether vitamin D deficiency is the cause of blood sugar elevations or whether blood sugar elevation somehow results in lower Vitamin D levels remains unclear, but avoiding vitamin D deficiency, especially if you have blood sugar issues or a family history of Diabetes, makes great sense to us (for many other reasons as well, vitamin D should be replaced)
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a both water and fat soluble vitamin that has been used to treat elevated blood sugars. It reportedly works to decrease insulin resistance, making the body more sensitive to whatever circulating insulin still exists. The benefits and dosing for this are still not clearly established, though a range of 600mg to 1800mg daily has been used, with some reported success and little toxicity. While ALA may have modest effects on blood sugar, it is indicated as very helpful for diabetic neuropathy. The antioxidant effect of ALA seems to reduce the nerve inflammation responsible for this very painful and often debilitating condition. However, the most compelling data for ALA is with IV dosing. In our opinion, taking ALA orally may be worth a try, but it is by no means an absolute must have in a vitamin regimen for diabetes.
One nutrient which has growing data to support it’s role in diabetes is chromium. People with diabetes have lower levels of circulating chromium then their healthy counterparts. It seems to play a role in the way insulin effects cells. As of 2014 chromium shows promise for helping with prevention and treatment of diabetes. However there is not yet solid data to support it’s routine use for this purpose. In other words no one has yet proven that giving it is a supplement will in fact prevent progression of diabetes or improve control of blood sugars, though in theory this may be the case. Its long term safety has also not yet been established thus we believe it is a supplement that shows some promise and keeping an eye on future research may lead us to start using it routinely in matters of blood sugar control.
Biotin (vitamin B7) has been shown to have some effect on lowering blood sugars. It is likely more effective when combined with chromium. Both of these vitamins play a role in energy and carbohydrate metabolism. This combination has also been used for treating diabetic neuropathy and pain, with fairly conclusive evidence in its favor. The doses studies are 600mg chromium and 2mg of biotin daily. Some sources recommend much higher doses of biotin (up to 10mg daily), but we believe this amount is extreme and exceeds the US RDA for biotin by a factor of 300.
This concludes part 1 of our discussion on vitamins for diabetes and blood sugar control. Stay tuned for our next blog on this topic which will include more vitamins and several natural food ingredients that can be useful for lowering sugars. There is much to learn about preventing and treating these common problems…
Romy Block specializes in Endocrinology and Metabolism and is mother to three elementary age boys. Arielle Levitan is a doctor of Internal Medicine with a special interest in Preventive Medicine and Women’s Health. She is a mother of three active adolescents. As professional women with active family lives, they recognize that people often neglect their own health needs and are uncertain about what vitamins to take. Each person is different in her diet, exercise and health history, and will benefit from different nutrients. After years of advising their patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs.
The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered by Vous Vitamin® are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Nothing contained herein is intended to be a diagnosis or constitute medical advice. The symptoms described in this Blog may be a result of a serious medical condition which requires medical treatment. You should consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this Blog and before beginning any vitamin or supplement regimen.