Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
Whether you’re looking for a “natural” health fix or trying to protect your health for the future, you have plenty of products to choose from—the supplement industry is a huge, multi-billion dollar endeavor.
Perhaps you thought you were “just fine” (besides having diabetes) before you entered the DIY health section—but quickly questioned yourself. With rows upon rows of pills, liquids, lotions, and potions, it’s overwhelming—and there’s no pharmacist in sight.
Choosing vitamins and dietary supplements can be a painful process, and if you’ve spent any time in the supplement section at a natural grocery store, you’ve experienced how easy it is to fork over cash for small bottles filled with promises.
A diabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean you need daily supplements. Nora Saul, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, of Joslin Diabetes Center, believes that when diabetes is well controlled, it doesn’t “increase the need for supplementary vitamins and minerals.”
That being said…
Providers may make suggestions for the following eight scenarios
1. Pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are customary.
2. Vegans. Many lack vitamin B12.
3. Restricted caloric intake/absorption issues. Vitamins may be recommended when calories are cut due to health issues.
4. Gastric manipulation surgeries. Most surgeries affect vitamin absorption, and these folks will usually be on supplements for life after surgery.
5. Medications that cause deficiencies. For example, people living with rheumatoid arthritis may be on medications that cause folic acid wasting. This necessitates the intake of folic acid supplements on a daily basis.
6. Inflammatory diseases. Rheumatologists may recommend supplements such as fish oil, turmeric, flax oil, probiotics, and others.
7. Cardiac issues. Healthcare providers may recommend supplements such as niacin, omega-3s, and others.
8. Diabetes and autoimmune diseases. Many people with diabetes—and others with autoimmune diseases—have chronically low vitamin D levels. Doctors may recommend supplementing with D-3. Low vitamin D levels are verified through blood testing.
What should you consider taking?
Remember that vitamins and supplements with various health claims won’t ever replace what’s found in a healthy diet—don’t underestimate those fruits and veggies—but they can enhance it.
Inquire about the need for these four supplements:
• A multivitamin.
• Vitamin D. It promotes calcium absorption.
• Calcium. Your provider may recommend calcium if you’re lactose intolerant or post-menopausal.
• Probiotics. More than 70% of our immune health is in the gut.
Before you take any vitamins or supplements:
Practice caution. Remember: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t provide oversight on vitamins and supplements like it does on prescription medications—manufacturers are essentially regulating their own products. Look for the USP symbol on the label. The process of earning a seal is voluntary on the part of manufacturers, but it shows that a supplement contains what it claims, is free of contaminants, and is readily absorbable. Check out usp.org for a list of verified supplements.
Avoid boosting the immune system. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease, which means the immune system was not self-regulating when it identified a threat and began to destroy its own insulin-producing cells. In addition to type 1 diabetes, many people with one autoimmune disease will develop another in their lifetime. Some examples include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Therefore, some supplements and foods that boost the immune system response should be avoided, such as Echinacea.
Know the difference between water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. Exercise caution with fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K, and F) by never taking more than 100 percent of the recommended daily dietary intake. Excesses of water-soluble vitamins (B and C) will be excreted, while fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body.
Be a bottle reader. Don’t seek guidance in the supplement section—seek it from your healthcare provider instead.
Keep a list of your medications and supplements. Fish oil and vitamin E act as blood thinners; they may also interact with other prescribed medications you’re taking. Keep a comprehensive list of what you’re taking and update your healthcare provider and pharmacist on all vitamins and supplements.
Fill your prescriptions at the same pharmacy to avoid prescription/supplement confusion. Pharmacists will alert you to drug and supplement interactions if you keep them up to date on your current list.
Take pictures of your medication and supplement bottles to help your healthcare providers when they’re updating your health record.
A final word: do your homework on what you think you need, and follow up with your healthcare provider prior to adding any vitamins to your repertoire.
Which supplements do you take? Have you noticed a difference in how you feel? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.