Health Impact Study III Shows Supplements Help Better Manage Diabetes

Successfully controlling diabetes is complicated, and a new study indicates that diabetics who take dietary supplements, while following other healthy behaviors, feel healthier and look after themselves better.

Key findings include:

1) Use of dietary supplements by the general population is significantly associated with reporting oneself to be in better health than a year ago.

2) Diabetic supplement users report being in better health than diabetics who do not use supplements.

3) Diabetic supplement users are more likely to engage in protective health behaviors.

4) About 34% of diabetics take dietary supplements.

Diabetes is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, affecting an estimated 16.7 million persons who are 20 years old and older. People with diabetes are at significantly higher risk for heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, extremity amputations, and other chronic conditions. There is no cure for diabetes; diabetics must undertake lifelong efforts to manage their glucose levels and take special careof their health.

The study is based on both a focused review of the research literature and IBIDS bibliographic database1 and an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The NHANES is an annual, nationally representative survey of approximately 7,000 individuals of all ages who are surveyed on demographic, health behavior, diet, and health status issues. The analyses were designed to determine whether diabetics who use dietary supplements differ from diabetics who do not use supplements on a variety of health and behavioral dimensions.

The scientific literature contains promising evidence on specific supplements and their role in reducing the relative risk of Type 2 diabetes (e.g., magnesium2), in lowering blood glucose levels (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids3,4), and in improving neuropathic symptoms, such as pain, burning, and numbness (e.g., alpha-lipoic acid5,6).  Persons with diabetes who also use supplements do not differ from non-supplement users on insulin or medication use. However, they were more likely to use chromium, zinc, calcium, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids than non-supplement users.

Commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, the study was conducted by the Lewin Group, a national health care and human services consulting firm owned by Quintiles Transnational, to quantify the health status and dietary supplement use among people with diabetes. In previous work, the Lewin Group found that supplement use is associated with other healthy behaviors, such as light drinking and a good score on the Healthy Eating Index.7  The results of this study further underscore the place of supplement use within the constellation of protective health behaviors.

A Study of Dietary Supplement Use among People with Diabetes (PDF 1,465 kb)


1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.  International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements.

2. Lopez-Ridaura R, Willett WC, Rimm EB, et al. (2004) Magnesium intake and risk of Type 2 diabetes in men and women. Diabetes Care 27: 134-140.

3. Yeh GY, Eisenberg DM, Kaptchuk TJ, et al. (2003) Systematic review of herbs and dietary supplements for glycemic control in diabetes.*  Diabetes Care. 26(4):1277-1294.

4. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Effects of Omega-3 FattyAcids on Lipids and Glycemic Control in Type II Diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome and on Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Renal Disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and Osteoporosis. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment no. 89. Rockville,MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2004. AHRQ publication no. 04-E012-2.

5. Ziegler D, Nowak H, Kempler P, et al. Treatment of symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy with the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid: a meta-analysis.* Diabetic Medicine. 2004;21(2):114-121.

6. Halat KM, Dennehy CE. (2003) Botanicals and dietary supplements in diabetic peripheral neuropathy.* Journal of the American Board of Family Practice. 16(1):47-57.

7. DaVanzo JE, Dobson A, Green L, et al. (2006) Health Effects and Cost Savings of the Average American who takes a Multivitamin: An Alternative Approach.  Presented to National Institutes of Health, State-of-the-Science Conference on Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention. May 16, 2006.

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