Managing Diabetes With Supplements

DIABETES IS A SERIOUS DISEASE caused by excessive blood glucose (sugar) level due to the body’s inability to use, produce or metabolise insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to use glucose for energy.

Diabetes, which may be inherited and/ or acquired deficiency in the production of insulin by the pancreas, or by the ineffectiveness of the insulin produced. Besides lifestyle changes such as undertaking regular exercise and adopting a healthier diet, dietary supplements also can help prevent or delay the onset of the complications associated with diabetes. Here are some examples of dietary supplements:

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha- lipoic acid has been used for over 30 years in Europe (especially in Germany) to counter nerve damage in people with diabetes (Types 1 and 2).

Known as diabetic neuropathy, this often very painful condition tends to develop in people who have had uncontrolled diabetes for a long time. The neuropathy may be caused in part by free-radical damage to nerves resulting from poorly regulated blood sugar (glucose).

As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid helps to block such damage. In addition, because of its effect on glucose metabolism, lipoic acid may improve the glucose-lowering action of insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar).

In a 1995 international meeting on diabetic neuropathy in Munich, Germany, several researchers reported the results on studies in which ALA reversed the damage to the nerves, heart and eyes of diabetics.

Most of the studies were from European universities.

Study after study reported that ALA regenerated damaged nerves. The opinion was that ALA protects through its antioxidant and anti- gylcemic actions.

The conference concluded that ALA was the agent of choice for prevention of diabetic complications, neuropathy, cardiomyopathy and retinopathy.

ALA and the EYE The eye is highly sensitive to oxidative damage (free radical damage). It has been suggested that excessive tissue- free radical damage may contribute to the development of age- related macular degeneration (AMD).

Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and glutathione help prevent oxidative stress and reduce the risk of AMD. ALA helps in reducing the risk of AMD as it regenerates other antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and especially glutathione.

Cataract is the term associated with loss of lens clarity of the eyes reducing one’s vision.

A greyish white film can be seen behind the pupil.

Cataract formation is a common diabetic complication caused by oxidative stress (free radical damage) and protein cross-linking (AGEs). ALA through its anti-glycosylation action and its ability to regenerate other antioxidants can help to prevent cataract.

ALA Increases Muscle Energy ALA helps improve the utilisation of glucose by muscle cells. ALA increases glucose transport by stimulating the glucose transporters to move from the cell’s interior to the membrane.

This action is independent of insulin transport. The result with ALA supplementation is more energy production in muscle tissues and less fat stored in the body.

This is of interest not only to diabetics but also to all of us.

Are We Getting Enough Alpha Lipoic Acid? The principle dietary source of ALA is spinach, meat (liver) and brewer’s yeast. ALA is also synthesised by our cells but the amount produced naturally declines as we age.

Recent studies indicate these sources appear to fall below optimum levels for maximum protection especially as we grow older and, many experts suggest taking ALA supplementation.


Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. As a co-enzyme, it assists in the making of fatty acids and in the oxidation of fatty acids and carbohydrates. Diabetics generally have cells that are not sensitive to the effects of insulin.

As a result, blood sugar levels increase.

Biotin supplementation enhances insulin sensitivity and increases the activity of enzyme glucokinase.

Glucokinase is the enzyme responsible for the first step in the utilisation of glucose by the liver. Glucokinase concentrations in diabetics are very low. Supplementing the diet with Biotin improves glucokinase activity and helps lower blood sugar levels.

Biotin may also play a role in stabilising blood sugar levels through biotin-dependent enzymes Acetyl CoA carboxylase and pyruvate carboxylase.


Diabetic neuropathy, the nerve damage, is one of the most common of all diabetic complications. As a result of the loss of nerve function, ulceration, gangrene and amputation may follow as well as other serious complications. The lack of blood flow and oxygen supply to nerves (nerve microcirculation) is thought of by many researchers to be the cause of neuropathy.

Various studies on GLA indicate that it can increase blood flow to diabetic nerves and therefore can have a positive effect on diabetic neuropathy.

All three supplements mentioned above can be bought separately or in combination.