This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.
By Andrew Briskin and Julia Kenney,
Products claiming to treat or even cure diabetes are everywhere, but do these so-called ‘cures’ really work? Spoiler alert: the answer is usually no. Treatments for diabetes need to be FDA-approved to ensure they are safe and effective. However, products classified as dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Below we discuss spices, dietary supplements, and other methods claiming to cure diabetes.
Every day, people with diabetes are bombarded with information about so-called “cures” that take the form of teas, spices, supplements, and more. This information often comes from well-intentioned friends or family members encouraging you to, “eat more cinnamon,” or “drink this tea,” to cure your diabetes, or from a quick web search of hundreds of so-called diabetes treatments that are not supported by any medical evidence.
The irony of these cures and treatments is not lost on many people with diabetes – while they work constantly to manage their glucose levels with various treatments, devices, diets and exercise routines, the world tells them that they can be cured with a simple spice mixture or a gummy vitamin.
In reality, there is no cure for diabetes. There has been progress in delaying the onset of type 1 diabetes, and people with type 2 diabetes can have it go into remission, but diabetes cannot be cured.
However, there are treatments, devices, and lifestyle interventions that have been proven, through rigorous scientific research, to improve the health and wellbeing of people with diabetes. These tools, such as insulin, metformin, and other medicines and devices like continuous glucose monitors (CGM) have been FDA-approved because they are safe and effective in treating diabetes.
Many people with diabetes feel frustrated when the medical advice about diet, exercise, medications, and glucose monitoring does not yield quick results, making it important to be especially wary of claims about an “easy cure.” These so-called treatments can be made to appear like legitimate, scientifically proven treatments. Here is some more information about many of the false treatments that you may encounter.
Natural or dietary supplements
Dietary supplement manufacturers must state that, “FDA has not evaluated the claim and the dietary supplement is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Many different types of dietary supplements have falsely claimed to offer people with diabetes a quick and easy path to a cure. In fact, in September 2021, the FDA sent a letter to ten companies that were illegally selling dietary supplements that claimed to cure, treat, or prevent diabetes. Based on a lack of evidence to support their claims, the FDA issued a cease and desist letter, meaning that they would take legal action unless the claims were removed.
Among these companies were several manufacturers of products like weight loss shakes, “diabetic support formula,” or “glucose-stabilizing” beverages that combine different natural ingredients. Many of them sold their products and listed these claims on websites like Amazon, Instagram, or Facebook.
These companies were able to advertise their false claims through the internet and social media, selling to people with personal stories about how, for instance, “this product helped me lower my A1C by X%.” However, they often do not disclose the actual ingredients in these products, which can lead to more harm than good, and are far more likely to focus their efforts on selling their products rather than helping people with diabetes.
Other sources have falsely claimed that certain spices and teas are “clinically proven” to help people with diabetes. Some of the more widely circulated information include claims about cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, or certain types of tea. While these are perfectly healthy foods that many people may choose to eat or drink, they should not be confused with legitimate diabetes treatments.
There is no scientific evidence to support that these spices and teas can cure diabetes. Some of these foods may be a welcomed addition to your daily diet, however. Including spices and teas in a diet is usually not problematic, but adding them thinking they are a legitimate treatment for diabetes can be very problematic. Instead of viewing these spices as an alternative to legitimate treatment, they should be viewed in the same way as other healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. While people with diabetes might eat non-starchy vegetables to help manage glucose levels (broccoli, for example), it would not make sense to claim that eating broccoli “cures” diabetes based on this information. The same should be thought about teas and spices.
Long story short, a sprinkle of cinnamon on your chia pudding every morning won’t cure your diabetes, but it may taste great!
Chemicals and extreme diets
Perhaps the most alarming instances of false claims are about chemicals, which can potentially be toxic, or extreme diets that advertise quick and easy weight loss. Some of these chemical compounds include hydrogen peroxide, and metals like chromium and magnesium.
Again, dietary supplements, metals or over the counter substances, like hydrogen peroxide, cannot help treat diabetes. These should never replace prescription medications for diabetes; eating or drinking these substances may cause significant damage to your digestive system and overall health.
Also, marketing messages from some subscription-based diet programs claim to help people lose weight quickly and easily. These diets can be extreme, sometimes suggesting you reduce your calorie intake to under 500 per day, for example. These diets may cause initial weight loss, but are extremely difficult or unrealistic to maintain.
Why are false or unproven treatments so dangerous?
The FDA approval process for a diabetes medication is rigorous and requires clinical research to ensure that treatments are safe and effective. The treatments and “cures” described above lack sufficient evidence to show exactly how they help people with diabetes. Some false cures can even harm people with diabetes by interfering with their treatment regimens, encouraging them to ingest dangerous chemicals, or by relying on extremely limited diets. When these false treatments are marketed as a “quick fix” for diabetes, they can tempt people to give up on their proven diabetes treatment, further disrupting an established treatment routine.
Another danger of the “cures” described above is that it makes diabetes management look simple to those who are not impacted by the disease. As we know, managing diabetes is far from easy. Framing diabetes as something that can be fixed with a daily vitamin or morning tea could fuel the blame and shame that those with diabetes too often feel. Helping your loved ones and peers understand what sort of support you need can help avoid unwanted advice. Setting these boundaries can help the next time someone recommends you eat more garlic to lower your A1C.
How to identify false claims
While the FDA is constantly on the lookout for companies that make false scientific claims, it is often up to you to identify when a claim is false. According to the FDA, anything that makes claims to “cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease” must be classified as a drug, and is therefore subject to the same approval process as proven diabetes drugs like metformin. Here are a few red flags when you read about different treatments for diabetes:
- As highlighted in the FDA warning letter, if claims about a product seem too good to be true, they most likely are. If a product claims to provide “instant pain relief,” “quick weight loss,” or “guaranteed blood sugar stabilization,” it is most likely not true. These claims are rarely backed by scientific evidence.
- If a product requires you to spend money or purchase a subscription in order to get more information about it, then it is likely a scam. This applies to subscription-based diets and individual products that make baseless claims.
- Finally, be sure to avoid any products that conflict with the advice of your healthcare team or that suggest you stop taking your prescription medication. Always check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your medication regimen or if you are unsure about any information that you find online. While supplements and spices claiming to cure or treat your diabetes can be tempting, there is nothing more effective than a FDA approved treatment regimen.
Read more about A1c, cure, cure for diabetes, diabetes cure, diabetes myths, exercise, Intensive management, metformin (Glucophage), myths, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).