Complementing Your Conventional
Recent research has shown that people with diabetes who use conventional medical
treatment (medication and insulin, when necessary) to manage their condition
use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in addition to their regular
treatment regimens. A survey of 2,474 adults with diabetes showed that 48 percent
of them used CAM therapies. When you consider that about 15 million people in
the U.S. have diabetes, that means that there are probably 7 million who use
Medical professionals have often worried that people who use alternative therapies
are more likely to abandon conventional treatment, but the research has shown
the opposite. In fact, studies show that people who use CAM therapies are more
likely to get a pneumonia shot and visit a primary care doctor.
Common CAM treatments that can help with diabetes include
Acupuncture: Researchers and practitioners of acupuncture say it can
trigger the release of the body's natural painkillers. If you have pain related
to complications of diabetes, like diabetic neuropathy, acupuncture may be an
option worth exploring.
Massage therapy: Massage is considered a healing therapy all over the
world. It's beneficial for everyone, but people with diabetes may find it especially
helpful in dealing with the everyday stress that's a part of keeping diabetes
in control. The skillful touch of a therapist can actually decrease the production
of stress hormones, which is beneficial because stress hormones can cause blood
sugar levels to rise.
Relaxation therapy: This can include techniques such as biofeedback,
which emphasizes relaxation and stress reduction, and teaches a person to become
more aware of the body's response to pain; and guided imagery, which brings
peaceful images to mind, such as ocean waves. This relaxation is a way for some
people to ease the symptoms of a chronic condition. Chinese exercise that are
slow and meditative, such as t'ai chi and qigong, are also extremely relaxing
when practiced regularly.
Supplements: The first thing to keep in mind if you're interested in
trying supplements is that very little research has been done to verify the
claims that these substances help manage diabetes. But if you do decide you
want to try any of these, be sure to talk with your doctor first. Some of the
more common supplements used for diabetes include:
A supplement it's best NOT to try:
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)-Small studies have indicated that ALA may help improve
the way your body uses insulin. But there's a possibility that ALA can cause
blood sugar to become too low, so it's important to test frequently.
- Magnesium-It's common for people with diabetes to have low levels of magnesium.
Researchers are studying the effects of magnesium supplementation on diabetes,
but the picture remains unclear. However, since magnesium is an important
mineral, it's worth considering taking a low-dose supplement. But keep in
mind that magnesium can interfere with certain drugs, such as antibiotics,
calcium channel blockers, diuretics (water pills) and muscle relaxants.
- Coenzyme Q10 (also called CoQ10)-Very little research has been done on the
effects of coenzyme Q10 on diabetes, but there is some evidence that this
supplement is beneficial for your heart. CoQ10 is safe for most adults, but
it can interact with certain medications, such as warfarin (a blood thinner)
and drugs for high blood pressure and cancer chemotherapy.
- Chromium-Some researchers believe that chromium acts with insulin to promote
normal blood glucose levels by moving glucose into the cells. It may also
help to increase HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) and decrease
total cholesterol and triglycerides. However, the National Center for Complementary
and Alternative Medicine states that chromium could be dangerous for people
with diabetes, because high doses can cause kidney failure.
Insulin, other medications, a healthy food plan and regular exercise are still
the cornerstones of diabetes treatment. But CAM can be a helpful complement
to your traditional diabetes treatment plan. If you're interested in exploring
ways to enhance your treatment, talk with your doctor. And be sure to monitor
your blood sugar carefully if you do add to your treatment plan.
Diabetes Care, January 2006; National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; National Institutes of Health NIDDK National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse