While a vitamin deficiency won’t cause diabetes, not having the proper diabetic nutrition can interfere with glucose control. American Diabetes Services, a leading provider of diabetic testing supplies, offers information on diabetes and nutritional supplements. Nutrition experts recommend targeting these twelve key nutrients:
Why these twelve nutrients? They’re the ones our experts say are most likely to come up short in American diets – and to be present in multivitamins in amounts likely to be effective.
Diabetics should look for 50 to 200 mcg. chromium supplements, a safe and adequate range set by the National Research Council. Nutrition research indicates that the food you eat may not deliver even the minimum amount of chromium needed for diabetics. This important mineral helps the body handle blood sugar; low levels of chromium may increase our risk of adult-onset diabetes (Type 2 Diabetes).
You may not see a % DV for chromium; instead, there may be an asterisk (*) that indicates “Daily Value not established.” That was the case until 1996, when the Food and Drug Administration set a DV for chromium of 120 mcg. It may take time for labels on some brands of nutrional supplements to catch up.
Extra chromium also seems to help build muscle for weight loss.
Diabetics should look for 5,000 international units (I.U.) vitamin A supplements, which is 100% DV. In most multivitamins, the vitamin A is a mix of preformed vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene. Even if a multivitamin is all pre-formed vitamin A or all beta-carotene, 5,000 I.U. is considered a very safe level of each.
Do not take above 10,000 I.U. of vitamin A supplements, and pregnant women shouldn’t go above 5,000 I.U. Too much pre-formed vitamin A may be toxic or cause birth defects.
Diabetics should look for 2 mg vitamin B6 supplements (100% DV).
American women’s diets are usually low in vitamin B6 (for some women, oral contraceptives may increase the need). Low intakes of vitamin B6 are linked to higher levels of heart-attack risk and poorer immune functioning in older people.
Do not overdo vitamin B6 (or any other vitamin or mineral, for that matter). Mega doses of 100 mg are associated with (reversible) nerve damage, and problems have been seen at vitamin B6 intakes of 50 mg.
Diabetics should try to take 200 to 500 mg of this antioxidant vitamin as a single supplement. Otherwise, your multivitamin should have at least 60 mg vitamin C (100% DV).
Evidence: A study last year at the National Institutes of Health found that we need 200 mg of vitamin C to keep blood plasma at 85% saturation level. For 95% saturation, we need 400 to 500 mg (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, April 1996). Researchers concluded that the current DV of 60 mg may be too low.
Vitamin C lowers the rate of cancer and heart disease, may help lower the risk of cataracts and helps people with diabetes. Look for vitamin C supplements in 100, 250 or 500 mg tablets, or find chewable tablets (to protect tooth enamel, chew only one a day) or effervescent tablets or powder that dissolve in water. You may find 100 mg or more of vitamin C in some multivitamins.
Take it in the mornings and afternoons, as after 12 hours, your body returns to pre-saturation levels, no matter what amount of vitamin C supplements you’ve taken.
Diabetics should look for 400 I.U. vitamin D supplements (100% DV). The body can manufacture vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin, but nutrition experts believe many people (especially the elderly and those who routinely use sunblock) may not be exposed to enough sun to produce the needed vitamin D.
Do not get more than 800 I.U. of vitamin D a day from nutritional supplements plus fortified foods on a regular basis. Be sure to count vitamin D from milk (100 I.U. per 8 oz. glass or per 1/3 cup nonfat milk powder) or fortified breakfast cereal (amounts vary).
Diabetics should consider taking 100 to 400 I.U. of this antioxidant vitamin. Most multivitamins supply only about 30 I.U. of vitamin E (100% DV), much less than the levels some nutrition research indicates may fight illness, especially heart disease. If you don’t take extra vitamin E supplements, make sure your multivitamin has at least 30 I.U.
Evidence: Among the best indication that extra vitamin E supplements may help is a British study of over 2,000 men and women with narrowed coronary arteries. Participants took either 400 or 800 I.U. of vitamin E or a placebo. The result: After 18 months, vitamin E takers (of either dose) lowered their chances of getting a nonfatal heart attack by 75% (Lancet, March 23, 1996). Other nutrition research suggests (but doesn’t prove) extra vitamin E might reduce the risk of cataracts and some cancers and help people with diabetes.
Diabetics should look for 400 micrograms folic acid supplements, which is 100% DV. It may also be listed as 0.4 mg (same as 400 mcg). Studies show that women taking nutritional supplements with 400 mcg folic acid prior to and in the first weeks of pregnancy give birth to fewer babies with serious brain and spine defects. Higher intakes of folic acid may help reduce risks of heart disease (by reducing blood levels of a substance called homocysteine) and colon cancer. But it’s difficult to get 400 mcg in your diet, and most Americans’ diets fall short.
Pre-menopausal women: Look for up to 18 milligrams iron supplements, which is 100% of the Daily Value (DV). Adult men and menopausal women: Look for 0 to 9 mg iron supplements (0 to 50% DV). (Note: Daily Value is the new name for the old U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance – U.S. RDA – which some labels still use.)
Pre-menopausal women having periods lose iron each month and may need the help of an iron supplement to replace it. However, women not having periods and adult men lose a little iron normally. And since some nutrition research indicates excess iron raises risks of heart disease and colon cancer, many experts now advise men and menopausal women to look for nutritional supplements with no or low iron. (Check your breakfast cereal; some are heavily fortified with iron. Take that into account when you select a multivitamin.)
Be aware: Unless you’re diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia, there’s no reason to take levels above 100% DV.
Diabetics should look for 100 mg magnesium supplements (25% DV). This is the most magnesium that you usually find in any single-dose multivitamin (the size of the pill would get too big). In a divided-dose multivitamin, look for up to 400 mg of magnesium (100% DV) in the day’s total.
Americans eat much less than 100% DV of magnesium that’s tentatively linked to protection from diabetes, osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, hypertension and migraine headaches.
Those with abnormal kidney function should not supplement their diet with magnesium without a doctor’s supervision. Excess magnesium can lead to diarrhea.
Depending on the calcium in your diet, diabetics may want to consider single nutritional supplements containing about 500 to 1,000 mg of calcium.
Evidence: It surprises many people that singe-dose multivitamin supplements are never “complete” with 100% DV for calcium (1,000 mg). In fact, that would be impossible – all that calcium would make a single tablet too big to swallow. Some single-dose multi-vitamins do have about 200 mg of calcium. But since surveys show many diets lag well behind recommended daily levels, a separate calcium supplement is worth considering.
Diabetics should look for 2 mg copper supplements (100% DV). This is another mineral the everyday diet does not contain enough of. Copper plays a role in bone and heart health, blood-sugar regulation and iron use.
If your nutritional supplement has zinc, make sure it has copper, as well. Elevating zinc intake without taking in enough copper can suppress the absorption of copper.
Diabetics should look for 15 mg zinc supplements (100% DV). Surveys show that zinc may be the mineral most lacking in Americans’ diets. Zinc is necessary for a strong immune system and proper healing of open wounds.
Do not take nutritional supplements with more than 15 mg of zinc a day on a regular basis. Too much zinc – in one study, 50 to 75 mg a day – can backfire and lower HDL cholesterol. (the good cholesterol)
What if other vitamins and minerals are present in a multivitamin? Consider them nice-to-have but not necessary. Check out these nutrition sites for more helpful information on nutritional supplements and diabetes:
www.alternativediabetes.com - for great information on managing your diabetes
www.informulab.com - for Beta Fast GXR herbal supplement, Gymnema Sylvestre Extract. “Concentrated, standardized, extended release GS extract. Helps control sweetness cravings and glucose absorption while boosting pancreatic function. A safe, effective, natural alternative treatment to help control high glucose levels associated with diabetes.”