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October 2010 newsletter feature: Vitamins, minerals and diabetes

It’s quite amazing how many rows of vitamins and mineral supplements there are in supermarkets, healthfood shops and pharmacies. The array can be quite baffling – you can’t take al of them, do you need any at all? If you do need some, which ones

If you’re living with a long-term such as diabetes condition where your body is arguably under more stress than, say, that of a non-diabetic it’s possible that certain supplements could well be of benefit.

Research was conducted in 2007 at Wawick University under Professor Paul Thornalley whereby the team measured thiamine (vitamin B1) levels in blood plasma and found concentrations were 76% lower in people with type 1 diabetes and 75% lower in people with type 2. Essentially people with diabetes disease expelled thiamine – vitamin B1 – from their bodies at 15 times the normal rate in the study of 94 people. Thiamine is though to help ward off complications such as heart disease and eye problems – often associated with diabetes anyway.  Professor Thornalley is continuing to research high dose thiamine in the prevention of diabetic nephropathy (nerve damage).

It’s that kind of information that makes you want to dash to the nearest chemist to get a bottle of pills.

We asked Dr Carrie Ruxton her opinion on which vitamins and minerals we could consider as back up to our normal diets.

“Vitamins and minerals are essential for everyone’s health. However, research shows that people often consume too few nutrients, either due to poor diets or increased requirements. Although people with diabetes are usually more careful about what they eat, intakes of certain vitamins and minerals can still be too low. Many of those with diabetes are encouraged to lose weight. However, when we cut calories, vitamins and minerals can also reduce, unless we make a special effort to eat nutrient-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy foods, lean meats and fish. This is why taking a vitamin and mineral supplement is a useful way to boost nutrient levels.

“People with diabetes can have increased requirements for certain nutrients due to the nature of their condition. Since diabetes is caused by a malfunctioning of the processes which control our blood sugar levels, nutrients which support insulin can be useful. One of these is the mineral, chromium, found naturally in whole grains and lean meats.

“Research shows that chromium works with insulin to remove glucose from the bloodstream. Another important nutrient for the management of blood sugar is magnesium, found in fish, nuts and wholegrains. Magnesium contributes to the secretion and action of insulin and supports digestion, as well as helping to stabilise blood sugar levels. Zinc is also important for insulin release and is vital for normal healing and immunity, which can be compromised in diabetes. People with diabetes are often low in chromium, magnesium and zinc.

“Different vitamins also have a role in helping the body to break down dietary fats and carbohydrates, and maintain normal body processes. B vitamins, such as vitamin B6 and B12, are important for healthy functioning of the nervous system, which of relevance to diabetes since nerve damage can occur when blood sugar levels fluctuate. Niacin helps with energy release from carbohydrates.

“Vitamin C, on the other hand, is vital for normal wound healing and immunity. Because vitamin D receptors have been found in the pancreas where insulin is produced, experts think that vitamin D may play a role in regulating insulin. However, intakes of this vitamin are often low in the UK due to low intakes of oily fish and inadequate sun exposure during the winter months. For people with diabetes, a daily supplement is a convenient way to safeguard intakes of these important vitamins and minerals.”

With thanks to Dr Carrie Ruxton writing on behalf of the Health Supplement Information Service (HSIS), an independent information body set up to provide balanced information on vitamins and minerals. www.hsis.org

Editor’s comment: You ought to discuss taking supplments with your diabetes team as some might interfere with other medication you are taking. But in the main you’re likely to be told it’s up to you. There will be no immediate way to tell if the supplements are doing you any good — in the main they offer only the possibility of preventing damage, you might just want to give them a go just in case.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Please send your comments to: sue.marshall@desang.net

Further Reading

An A-Z of vits and mins for diabetes: http://www.diabetes.co.uk/vitamins-supplements.html

Article from The Independent: http://bit.ly/aQWRqh

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