July 31, 2000 -- When 40-something Jeff Cottingham was diagnosed with type 2
diabetes, his doctor immediately started him on drugs to control his blood
sugar. But Cottingham worried.
Some drugs for diabetes can have dangerous side effects. In a striking
example, on March 21, 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed
one of the most widely prescribed diabetes drugs, Rezulin (troglitazone), from
the market after it was linked to 90 cases of liver failure and 63 deaths.
Every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world, someone loses a lower limb as a
result of diabetes. That's because diabetes and wounds are a dangerous
If you have diabetes, there's no such thing as a minor wound to the foot --
even a small foot sore can turn into an ulcer that, if not properly treated,
can lead to amputation. The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10
times higher than for those who don't have the disease.
Most of these amputations could easily be prevented...
Already concerned about such problems two years ago, the Aptos, Calif.,
resident began taking Sweet Eze, a mixture of herbs and minerals sold for
diabetes. The supplement seemed to work wonders for the self-described "old
His level of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) -- a protein that reflects
blood glucose levels over the past two to three months -- plummeted from 11 to
well below the danger threshold of 6. "I feel great," says Cottingham,
who has experienced no side effects from the supplement. "I'm completely
off diabetes medications now."
A success story? Perhaps. But experts advise caution. For one thing, because
Sweet Eze contains six different ingredients -- and because the severity of
diabetes symptoms can fluctuate on their own -- it's hard to say what exactly
is responsible for Cottingham's improvement. For another, supplements carry
their own risks. Some products don't contain the ingredients listed on their
labels. Others come mixed with dangerous -- and unlisted -- ingredients. And
scientists are just beginning to verify which ones actually work.
Doing Ginseng Justice
One herb touted for diabetes got a boost recently from a Canadian clinical
trial. University of Toronto researcher Vladamir Vulksan, PhD, announced at the
American Diabetes Association (ADA) annual meeting in June 2000 that he'd
gotten some positive results using ginseng.
In addition to their usual diabetes regimen -- a careful diet, regular
exercise, and in some cases, medication -- 23 type 2 diabetic patients took
either 3 grams of American ginseng or a placebo each day for eight weeks, at
which point they switched treatments. The diabetic patients' fasting blood
sugar levels dropped about 9% more when they took ginseng compared with when
they took the placebo; glycosylated hemoglobin levels between the two groups
differed by 4%, with the ginseng group being lower.
Despite these encouraging results, Vulksan cautions that it's too early for
diabetic patients to rely on ginseng. Herbs sold in this country are not
standardized, he says, so it's difficult to know for certain what you're buying
and impossible to ensure consistent dosages. Besides, his study looked only at
American ginseng, and he's not certain the results would hold true for the
seven other varieties. What's more, researchers haven't conclusively identified
ginseng's active ingredients.
Meanwhile, other scientists are studying fenugreek seeds, a folk remedy for
diabetes. Several studies, including one published in 1990 in the European
Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that this herb can lower blood sugar.
Researchers found that type 1 diabetics who took 50 grams of fenugreek seed
powder twice daily had significantly lower blood sugar levels than those who
took a placebo.
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