Real Money, Imaginary Benefits of Supplements for Diabetes

We’re learning a lot about health scams. When people feel scared and desperate, promises of a “game-changer” for a dread disease (e.g., COVID-19) can arouse passions. But an objective look at actual evidence brings the truth into view. Then the scam becomes a mess for people who fell for it. That experience should be instructive for people chasing the imaginary benefits of dietary supplements for diabetes.

The money that people spend on these scammy products is real. But a new review in Nutrition & Diabetes tells us that the benefits are not.

Fiber, Selenium, and Zinc – Oh My!

Bridget Hannon and colleagues (including ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle) identified the top 100 ingredients in dietary supplements making claims related to diabetes. The sheer volume of products made this a challenge. However, a searchable database from the Office of Dietary Supplements at NIH made it manageable. The researchers made further use of information technology to scrape the PubMed database for studies that made reference to these ingredients in reducing or controlling diabetes.

In all, they found a total of 6,217 studies with any relevance. Then they zeroed in on the most recent studies to focus on only 1,823 studies. Screening criteria for rigor and relevance then brought the number down to 425 studies.

In the end, several popular ingredients had no studies that made it through the process. Fiber, selenium, and zinc popped up in the largest number of studies, but the evidence was still unimpressive. The authors concluded:

In general, we found that most, but not all, ingredients that are currently included in supplements for diabetes had very little to no evidence supporting their use.

There does not exist strong evidence to support the use of many commercial supplements for management of diabetes or its comorbidities. Even existing support is limited due to poor study design and uncontrolled study methods.

Double Talk Keeps These Scams Alive

Despite thin or non-existent evidence, a little bit of double talk goes a long long way. You’ll find health oriented websites like Healthline leaving the door open for people who want to engage in magical thinking about these supplements. Then consumers can go shopping for options that offer up gibberish about “natural blood sugar support” and “powerful AMPK activators.”

It all sounds good, but it means nothing – except for one thing. These products bring money to the schemers who are selling them. They do it all while disclaiming, as required by law, that the products are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

A fool and his money are soon parted.

Click here for the study by Hannon et al and here for further perspective on the need for reform.

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May 4, 2020

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