Supplement Alert

4 supplements you must discuss with your diabetes healthcare team.

Eleanor Gilman
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Like many people, you’re probably taking a supplement to help improve your health. But did you know some popular supplements could wreak havoc with blood sugar? To make sure the herbs, vitamins or minerals in your medicine cabinet won’t cause harm, ask your doctor, diabetes educator or pharmacist to review your supplements, as well as your medications, advises diabetes educator Roberta Anding. And be especially careful not to take the supplement listed below without clearance from your healthcare team.

Ginkgo can interfere with diabetes medications
It’s one of the top-selling herbs in the U.S. because of its reputation as a memory enhancer and circulation booster. Some folks also say the herb helps relieve vertigo and dizziness. But if you are taking an oral medication to control your diabetes, consider this: Gingko can decrease the drug’s effect, causing an increase in blood sugar. And according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it can lower insulin levels in people with diabetes. “The effect is dependent on your ability to produce insulin,” says Anding.
A safer way to boost your memory:
Use all your senses, say Harvard researchers. When meeting someone new, for example, notice what color her shirt is and pay attention to the sound of her voice. And when learning new information, break it into smaller chunks—start with the first three or four digits in a long account number, say, and go from there.

Niacin increases insulin resistance
If you have high cholesterol, you may have heard about the benefits of niacin, a B vitamin that has been found to help raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower levels of both LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, a fatty substance found in the blood. In fact, many doctors recommend niacin as an inexpensive first-line treatment for high cholesterol. However, for people with diabetes, niacin may not be a good idea: According to Anding, it can interfere with your body’s ability to use insulin efficiently, thereby leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Take niacin only if your doctor prescribes it and monitor your blood sugar more often than usual. 
A safer way to lower cholesterol:
The good news is that the same lifestyle steps that help control blood sugar levels—eating a well-balanced diet, shunning tobacco, enjoying regular physical activity, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight—can also improve your cholesterol levels. If those measures aren’t effective, ask your healthcare provider about options that won’t thwart your diabetes-management plan.

April 2013