Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

The use of dietary supplements in this country is on the rise. About 71 percent of adults in the United States take supplements, according to a recent survey conducted for the Council for Responsible Nutrition. With the baby boomers approaching senior citizen status, this number will no doubt continue to rise.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements differently than prescription medications, you are responsible for doing your own “homework.” You need to know what a supplement is used for and understand the evidence behind this usage. You also need to look up appropriate dosages with the assistance of your healthcare team.

Four popular supplements you may want to try

  1. Research in the journal Diabetes shows that an ingredient in tangerines called nobiletin appears to confer some protection against cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes; more human studies are warranted to verify this. If you want to try it, look for "sytrinol" or “citrus bioflavonoids.”

  2. Magnesium deficiency has been talked about a lot lately in research literature. Low magnesium has been related to insulin resistance, and studies have also examined the potential role of magnesium in diabetic complications such as retinopathy and neuropathy. Additional research is needed to substantiate more of these claims. You can increase your intake of magnesium by eating more foods rich in magnesium, like green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains, or consider adding a supplement to your daily diet.

  3. The açaí berry, in various forms, has been well publicized as having multiple health benefits. A pilot study published in Nutrition Journal (volume 10, issue 45) documented the possible health benefits of the açaí berry. The initial clinical trial results showed that the açaí fruit pulp may be capable of reducing risk factors associated with metabolic disorders in mildly overweight adults. To take advantage of this berry, simply purchase it in supplement form.

  4. I have written extensively about the health benefits of vitamin D and continue to believe that many people are vitamin D deficient but don’t know it. There is a simple blood test for vitamin D, and I encourage you to know your level. Normal values may vary depending on the lab your doctor uses; the normal ranges will be printed on your lab results.

It has been shown in several studies that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, and it may not always be easy to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food alone. Sun exposure, although a good source of vitamin D, may not be possible for those who live in northern areas or those who have to limit sun exposure due to skin cancer risks, etc. Vitamin D is relatively inexpensive and easy to find in any grocery store.

Before starting any supplement, do your homework and always check with your entire healthcare team, pharmacist included! Don’t just assume you are deficient in something based on how you feel; get the proper blood work and diagnosis. Never assume a cause. And remember that too much of anything can also do harm.

Stay well!

Share your opinions and experiences with supplements in the comment thread below and check out this related discussion thread.