A Guide to Integrative Medicine for Diabetes

Although they can’t replace prescribed medications, a number of complementary treatments may help improve type 2 diabetes. Find out which ones are worth trying.

Erica Patino
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From dietary supplements to yoga, many forms of alternative medicine are touted as beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. But how do you know which will really help and whether they’re safe to try?

Not all complementary and alternative therapies are created equal, according to Betul Hatipoglu, MD, a staff member in the department of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In fact, there’s a misperception that alternative therapies can replace traditional diabetes medication. “I love the term complementary medicine because it’s something you use together with your diabetes medication, not instead of medication,” says Dr. Hatipoglu. “You can’t ignore traditional treatment. It’s important to complement your treatment and find the right balance for a healthier lifestyle.”

Diabetes and stress

Here are some stress-reduction techniques that may help improve type 2 diabetes; talk with your healthcare professional to see which one will work best for you:

  • Yoga: A study in the journal Diabetes Care found that people with type 2 diabetes who took a yoga class three times a week, in addition to their regular diabetes care, had slightly better blood sugar control than those who didn’t do yoga. “Yoga has been shown to help type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance,” adds Dr Hatipoglu.
  • Prayer and meditation: People with type 2 diabetes who learned meditation techniques in a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) had improved blood glucose and blood pressure and decreased depression and anxiety, according to a study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
  • Acupuncture: Dr. Hatipoglu says acupuncture can be especially beneficial for people with diabetes who experience painful diabetic neuropathy, or damage to the nerves. A study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice found that acupuncture significantly helped the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and improved insulin secretion from the pancreas.
  • Biofeedback: This form of mind-body relaxation therapy, in which you’re hooked up to electric sensors that monitor blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, brain waves and other physiological functions, was found to improve blood sugar when used in combination with standard diabetes treatment, according to a study in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.

Supplements for diabetes

A well-rounded diet is key to getting the nutrients you need. In addition, Dr. Hatipoglu says certain supplements may help. Check with your healthcare professional about taking supplements and determining the proper dosage. 

  • Cinnamon: The jury is still out on cinnamon’s blood sugar benefits. However, according to a study in Diabetes Care, the was found to help reduce blood sugar, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. As long as your doctor says there is no harm, you can take up to 6 grams of cinnamon a day in the form of supplements or add cinnamon to your food. Sprinkled cinnamon tastes good on oatmeal and fruit, or you can steep cinnamon sticks in hot water for a soothing tea.
April 2013