Dietary Supplements and Diabetes

Dietary supplements can be used to help get the right balance of nutrients in our diets
Dietary supplements can help get the right balance of nutrients in our diets

Dietary supplements are products that can help us get the right balance of important nutrients in our diets.

Some dietary supplements may perform another function such as helping with digestion.

They are designed to supplement a diet, and should not be used as a replacement for healthy foods which provide a rich, natural source of essential nutrients.

Currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest that any dietary supplements can help prevent or manage diabetes unless there is a known deficiency. [291]

It's best to consult your doctor before taking a supplement to ensure it will be appropriate and to prevent side effects from occurring or any interactions with medication you are currently taking.

What are dietary supplements?

A dietary supplement, also known as a food supplement or nutritional supplement, is intended to provide nutrients which may include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Amino acids
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fibre
  • Digestive enzymes

They are available in various forms, including tablet, capsule, powder and liquid.

Dietary supplements are appropriate for people who have a clinical need for them This may include nutrient deficiencies or if people have a condition that requires supplements to compensate.

Supplements and diabetes

There are currently no supplements that have been shown to directly benefit diabetes.

Several studies have assessed the benefits of dietary supplements for diabetes management but none have conferred strong benefits. [292]

It is therefore recommended that supplements are only taken if there is a clinical need for them such as a nutrient deficiency.

In some cases, supplements may lead to side effects or drug interactions.

There has also been research into several herbs, spices and other plant-based supplements to see if they can help people with diabetes. These include:

Whilst some studies have shown benefits, the evidence to date is lacking in reliability and more studies will be required to confirm benefits.

For more information on plant-based therapies take a look at our guides on vitamins and minerals and herbal remedies for diabetes.

Are there any precautions I should take before using supplements?

Many dietary supplements contain active ingredients that can make them unsafe and harmful in some situations. Not all supplements have proven health benefits and even ‘natural’ supplements can be risky, particularly if you have an existing medical condition such as diabetes.

So before using any supplement you must first check with your GP to ensure it is safe to take alongside any prescribed medication you're on.

You should also:

  • Read trustworthy information about supplements
  • Be wary of supplements which sound too good to be true – e.g. those which claim they can “treat or cure diseases”
  • Avoid substituting prescription medicines for supplements
  • Avoid taking a bigger dose than the label recommends
  • Stop taking a supplement if you experience side effects

Diabetic neuropathy

Certain supplements, such as vitamin B12, have been investigated as a potential treatment for diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), a common complication among people with diabetes.

This is because neuropathy is often associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency.

However, researchers have not found any significant evidence that vitamin B12 supplementation can lessen the symptoms of neuropathy. [293] [294]

Safety precautions and supplements

Some dietary supplements contain active ingredients which can make them unsafe and harmful for some people.

Certain supplements can be particularly risky if you have an existing medical condition such as diabetes.

You should check with your GP to ensure it is safe to take supplements alongside any prescribed medication you are receiving.

  • Never substitute prescription medicines for supplements
  • Never take a bigger dose than the label recommends
  • Read up on the side effects of supplements
  • Stop taking a supplement if you experience side effects
  • Be wary of supplements which sound too good to be true – e.g. those which claim they can “treat or cure diseases”

Supplements and hypoglycemia

If you have diabetes and take medication that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), such as insulin, glinides or sulphonylureas, then some supplements might not be suitable for you.

These include fenugreek, a supplement that may lower blood sugar levels by slowing down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.

Your diabetes healthcare team will be able to advise you on the safety/risks of a particular dietary supplement.

Explore Dietary Supplements