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Insulin is a natural protein made by the pancreas that helps the body use sugar. Insulin is injected by all people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and by some people with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus to help control blood sugar levels.
Any substance (dietary, supplemental, herbal, and others) that affects blood sugar levels will directly or indirectly affect the amount of insulin required by a person with diabetes. For example, consumption of a high-fiber diet and/or supplementation with nutrients such as chromium, biotin, vitamin E, or herbs such as Gymnema sylvestre will often improve blood sugar control in diabetics. In such cases, the amount of insulin may need to be reduced in order to avoid a hypoglycemic reaction. Anyone taking insulin should consult the prescribing physician before making dietary changes or taking nutrients or herbs that are designed to lower blood sugar levels.
Common brand names:Exubera, Humalog, Humanlog, Humulin, Iletin, Levemir, Novolin, NovoRapid, Oralin, Lantus, Apidra, Levemir, NovoLog
Summary of Interactions with Vitamins, Herbs, & Foods
Replenish Depleted Nutrients
Insulin has been shown to decrease the levels of DHEA and DHEA-sulfate in the blood.1 More research is needed to determine the significance of this finding.
Reduce Side Effects
In a controlled study of patients with type 1 diabetes, fenugreek (100 grams per day for ten days) was reported to reduce blood sugar, urinary sugar excretion, serum cholesterol, and triglycerides, with no change in insulin levels.2 In a controlled study of people with type 2 diabetes, fenugreek (25 grams per day for 24 weeks) was reported to significantly reduce blood glucose levels.3 People using insulin should talk with their prescribing doctor before incorporating large amounts of fenugreek into their diet.
Potential Negative Interaction
Biotin supplements have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.4 Consequently, supplementing with biotin could reduce blood sugar levels in people with taking insulin, potentially resulting in abnormally low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). While biotin supplementation may be beneficial for people with diabetes, its use in combination with insulin or with any other blood sugar–lowering medication should be supervised by a doctor.
Chromium supplements have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.5 Consequently, supplementing with chromium could reduce blood sugar levels in people with taking insulin, potentially resulting in abnormally low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). While chromium supplementation may be beneficial for people with diabetes, its use in combination with insulin or with any other blood sugar-lowering medication should be supervised by a doctor.
Animal studies have shown that dandelion can lower blood sugar levels. In a case report, a patient who was taking insulin for diabetes developed episodes of hypoglycemia after adding dandelion to her treatment regimen.6 People taking blood sugar-lowering drugs should therefore not take dandelion without the supervision of a doctor.
Although no interactions have been reported, gymnema may decrease the required daily dose of insulin.7 Therefore, people currently using insulin for the treatment of diabetes should discuss the use of this herb with their healthcare professional.The interaction is supported by preliminary, weak, fragmentary, and/or contradictory scientific evidence.
1. Lavallee B, Provost PR, Kahwash Z, et al. Effect of insulin on serum levels of dehydroepiandrosterone metabolites in men. Clin Endocrinol 1997;46:93-100.
2. Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr 1990;44:301-6.
3. Sharma RD, Sakar A, Hazra DK, et al. Use of fenugreek seed powder in the management of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Nutr Res 1996;16:1131-9.
4. Maebashi M, Makino Y, Furukawa Y, et al. Therapeutic evaluation of the effect of biotin on hyperglycemia in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. J Clin Biochem Nutr 1993;14:211-8
5. Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, Polansky MM, Cheng N, Chi J, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes1997;46:1786-91.
6. Goksu E, Eken C, Karadeniz O, Kucukyilmaz O. First report of hypoglycemia secondary to dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) ingestion. Am J Emerg Med 2010;28:111.e1-2.
7. Shanmugasundaram ER, Rajeswari G, Baskaran K, et al. Use of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract in the control of blood glucose in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. J Ethnopharmacol 1990;30:281-94.
Last Review: 03-18-2015
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