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Diabetes, vitamins and the health benefits

Supplements are big business, and that business is getting even bigger. Surveys conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that between 1988 and 1994, just over 40 percent of Americans used some type of dietary supplement. Between 2003 and 2006, that number rose to over 50 percent.

The most common supplement taken by adults was a multivitamin or multi-mineral. For standalone supplements, Vitamin D was among the most popular. Vitamin D, along with calcium and magnesium, are often recommended in a diabetes treatment regimen.

Do vitamins and minerals really fight type 2 diabetes?

There is research that backs up the claim that Vitamin D can aid in blood glucose control by decreasing insulin resistance. In a study of 124 people with diabetes conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, an overwhelming majority--113 patients, or over 91 percent--had a Vitamin D deficiency. In addition, the hemoglobin A1C numbers were higher among those who had the most severe deficiencies, suggesting that a lack of Vitamin D has some correlation with higher blood sugar levels.

In addition, numerous studies published over the last decade show a strong correlation between low magnesium intake and the risk of developing diabetes. The same is true for those who have low levels of calcium in their diet. Though these studies have proven a correlation, they have not proven causation. That means that while it appears there is a connection between taking Vitamin D, magnesium and calcium supplements and better glucose control, that connection has not yet been proven.

Other studies have tackled the question of whether a simple multivitamin is suitable as part of a diabetes treatment plan. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that those diabetics who took a multivitamin had a much lower incidence of infection than those who did not. However, the benefits were seen strongly in younger patients, while healthy patients aged 45 and older didn't show any differences.

Diabetes and vitamins: what does that mean for me?

Fortunately, magnesium and calcium levels are usually checked regularly in bloodwork, and that means your doctor can quickly spot a deficiency. Eating more dairy products can increase your calcium intake. Get more magnesium in your diet by eating more nuts, whole grains, leafy green vegetables and beans. If diet changes aren't enough to make up for a deficiency, supplements can bridge the gap.

Though Vitamin D levels are not always checked in routine bloodwork, it is reasonable to ask your physician to test your Vitamin D level every year or so, says Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society. If your levels are low, changes in diet or a supplement might be recommended.

Finally, check with your doctor about taking a multivitamin. Though multivitamins might not have a marked effect on diabetes control, the added bonus of vitamins and minerals might give your immune system and general health a boost.

About Shannon Lee

Shannon Dauphin has lived with diabetes for more than a dozen years. When she's not playing ninja with lancets or counting carbs, she can be found traveling across the country with laptop in hand.

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