So, you are not entirely satisfied with your blood glucose control and you don’t want to take another medication. You have heard that Gymnema sylvestre can lower blood glucose and are considering trying it. You have now entered the world of complementary medicine.
Complementary medicine refers to any medical therapy that falls outside the bounds of conventional medicine as it is practiced by licensed health care providers.
A myriad of things fall under this heading, from acupuncture to herbal supplements. Today’s blog looks at the world of herbal supplements, sometimes called botanicals, and previews some safety concerns, what to look for in a product if you decide to take one and where to get more information. In part 2, we’ll review three botanicals used for blood glucose control.
People perceive herbal supplements as natural and therefore not harmful. But as they say, not all that glitters is gold nor all that’s natural safe. Many herbal supplements have side effects as dangerous as or more dangerous than many commercial drugs. For example, comfrey and kava can cause liver damage. Or supplements that are safe for adults may not be for children; two supplements used for diabetes, fenugreek and bitter melon, are not recommended for children.
Herbal supplements are not in the same class as drugs and are not regulated as drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has oversight over dietary supplements and views them as foods.
The FDA has established quality standards for identity, purity, strength, and composition of dietary supplements, but is not directly checking that what is written on the label is in the bottle for every supplement. Many reviews have shown that not all supplements contain the amount of product indicated on the label. This makes it very important to buy from a reputable manufacturer.
No herbal supplement can cure a disease.
There are no double-blind, controlled clinical trials in the United States that have found herbal supplements can replace standard diabetes medications in achieving glycemic control.
This is not to say some of these supplements don’t have an effect on blood glucose levels. Manufacturers of herbal supplements are not allowed to make disease treatment claims for their products. Instead, similar to what you may find on food labels, you will find structure/function claims on botanicals. For example, a supplement may say it helps maintain blood glucose levels but not that it is a treatment for diabetes.
Be cautious about taking herbal supplements if you take the following types of drugs.
- Drugs to treat depression, anxiety or other psychiatric problems
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Blood thinners
- Blood pressure medicine
- Heart medicine
- Drugs to treat diabetes
- Cancer drugs
Before you decide to take a supplement:
- Know what you are taking, and why you are taking it.
- Know the best dose of the supplement for your condition.
- Know the best form of the supplement to take—many supplements are made from more than one source (for example, the product may be processed from the bark, leaves and fruits but only the leaves have shown effectiveness).
- Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplement—herbals can interact with Western medications.
If you decide to take one:
- Continue to take your prescribed medications—herbal supplements are not intended to fully treat any disease.
- Stop taking herbal supplements at least two weeks before surgery, as they can interfere with anesthesia and contribute to bleeding.
- Buy supplements from a reputable vendor–one that displays the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International seal. These seals indicate that the product contents are truthfully described on the label.
Where to go for more information:
- USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=1&tax_subject=274
- Medline Plus for Herbal Medicine http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/herbalmedicine.html
- U.S. Pharmacopeia http://www.usp.org/
- ConsumerLabs.com http://www.consumerlab.com/