By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
18 Oct 2023
Are all carbs bad for diabetics? Can natural health products affect blood sugar? Should diabetics take multivitamins? There are a lot of confusing and contradictory ‘facts’ about diabetes out there. Let’s separate the truth from the fiction.
Myth #1: Type 2 diabetics require insulin injections.
False. While type 1 diabetics depend on insulin injections to ensure that the carbs they eat can be used by the body, most type 2 diabetics still make insulin--yet it’s ineffective at getting glucose into the cells. So just because your life does not currently depend on insulin injections doesn’t mean your health is not being damaged by this disease. Type 2 diabetes typically requires daily use of blood sugar-lowering drugs, at the very least. But like most health interventions, the benefits are lost if you stop them. There’s no way to sugar coat it: poorly-managed Type 2 diabetes can shorten lifespan and reduce quality of life by increasing your risk of heart disease, visual impairment, chronic pain, kidney disease, painful diabetic neuropathies, falling, and infection.
Myth #2: All carbs are bad for you when you have diabetes.
False. We can’t paint all carbohydrates with the same brush. Carbohydrates like grain flours and sugars contain the kind of sugars that get absorbed rapidly into the blood. But natural, minimally processed carb-based foods like whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables and fruit are also high in fibre--a food component which is highly recommended by diabetes associations worldwide. Besides, many vegetables are actually very low in carbohydrates: broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, and asparagus are a few examples. In summary, portion size and the source of carbohydrates matter.
Myth #3: Herbal products have no effect on blood sugar.
False. Some plants contain natural ingredients that have significant blood-sugar-lowering effects. These include cinnamon, bitter melon, gymnema and barberry (a source of berberine). But it’s important to realize that these botanicals can act so powerfully that they also have side-effects. For example, berberine disrupts the gut microflora, which can have a multitude of consequences for your digestive and immune health, at the very least.
Myth #4: An ordinary multivitamin can provide for the nutritional needs of diabetics.
False. Diabetics have increased requirements for certain nutrients compared to non-diabetics. Multivitamins typically cannot provide enough of the specific nutrients that diabetics require more of to help nourish their nerves and blood vessels. Part of the reason is because some of the medications used to manage diabetes interfere with or increase the body’s need for certain vitamins and minerals. For instance, studies show that intestinal absorption of vitamin B12 is impaired in those who use biguanide (e.g. Metformin ®) as an insulin-sensitizer. That’s why using a sublingual B12 tablet is a better choice.
Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies in diabetics include B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and Vit D. The risk of deficiencies increases with a reduction in appetite. Take the diabetes drug semaglutide (i.e. Ozempic ®, Rybelsus ® Wegovy ® ), for instance. This injectable medication increases insulin production in the pancreas, reduces the amount of sugar released and made by the liver, and reduces stomach emptying time. While there is no evidence yet of specific nutrient depletions associated with semaglutide use, the drug is known to reduce appetite.
Myth #5: You should be able to manage your diabetes naturally, without medical supervision.
False. Sudden or extreme changes to your diet can be dangerous when you’re diabetic. Seeing a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian is a good way to make sure you’re balancing your diet properly. Understand that combining drugs and herbs safely at the same time requires close medical supervision. The same care should be taken when adding supplementary vitamins and minerals because they can have blood sugar-lowering effects at certain doses. too. It’s important to keep your primary health care practitioner informed about any natural health products you’re interested in taking, get bloodwork done regularly and be monitored for any indications of developing complications of the disease.
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