Science-Based Medicine » Cinnamon for diabetes? The consequences of “natural alternatives”
*Mexikaresistance.com Note: So-called "natural" and "traditional" medicines are constantly being pushed as being "better" than actual medicine. Please educate yourselves in regards to what you are putting in your body! Always question the quackery being pushed by websites like "natural news" and other "alternative" medicine sites!A customer strolled up to the counter one night when I was working in a retail pharmacy: “My doctor says I have prediabetes. I don’t want to take any drugs. Do you have something natural I can use to cut my blood sugar?” I looked at him in the eye, and pointed at his sizeable midsection. “Sir, if you’re at risk for diabetes, and you don’t want to take medication, the single best thing you can do for yourself is lose some weight.” He grinned and asked, “Great – what supplement can I take to help me?”
This type of discussion occurs all the time. A patient has been assessed by their physician, and informed that they have a medical problem of some sort. The patient, reluctant to accept the physician’s evaluation, heads to the pharmacy for a second opinion. In some cases, the patient may question the physician’s advice: “All my physician wants to do is prescribe drugs.” Yet there’s a disconnect when it comes to strategies for management. More often than not, non-drug approaches are rejected out-of-hand (probably because the sample I speak with have already made the decision to buy something). And in those that are leery of medical management, there’s often a willingness to consider anything that’s available without a prescription – particularly if it’s perceived as “natural.” Natural products are gentle, safe, and effective, while medicine is thought of as unnatural, harsh, and potentially dangerous. This is the naturalistic fallacy, nothing more. Purveyors of supplements leverage the naturalistic fallacy into the marketing strategy of choice for almost all supplements and “alternative” medicines. And it leads to bad health care decisions.Alternative medicine for diabetes is big business, because the public health burden of diabetes is massive, and growing. In 1985, the worldwide prevalence was 30 million people. In 2000, it was 150 million. By 2030, it could be 250 million. Why are more people being diagnosed with diabetes? Obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and an aging population. At its core, diabetes is a disease of sugar (glucose) management. Insulin, secreted by the pancreas, allows cells to use glucose. When the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, it’s called Type 1 diabetes. This is an autoimmune disease that strikes early in life, and was a death sentence until insulin was discovered. When the pancreas can produce insulin, but the amount is insufficient, or when there’s a problem with the uptake of insulin into cells, it’s termed type 2 diabetes. 90% of all diabetes is type 2. Typically a disease of older adults, type 2 diabetes can potentially be treated without drugs of any kind, but success rates are low and medication is eventually advisable. There’s also gestational diabetes, a disease of pregnancy, and prediabetes, where blood sugars are elevated, and diabetes is an expected future diagnosis.
Given the prevalence of diabetes and the chronic nature of the disease, it’s no surprise that CAM is a popular treatment option. I don’t see a lot of CAM use in Type 1 diabetics. Insulin is the primary treatment, it works well, and patients can objectively measure their own blood sugar. Type 1 diabetics don’t seem to experiment with supplements that might alter their blood sugars. Those patients end up hospitalized or dead.
It’s the patients with type 2 diabetes that lean towards supplements. While lifestyle modifications are the foundation for managing diabetes (exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation), drug treatment is usually also required. There are an array of prescription drugs like metformin and glyburide with a long history of use and demonstrated efficacy. Some drugs even decrease mortality – the primary outcome we’re after. But proper treatment has also been shown to the reduce the risk of an array of other consequences: Diabetes is the biggest cause of blindness, kidney failure and non-traumatic amputation. Diabetes is associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, too. Yet despite the irreversible consequences of diabetes, and the availability of effective medications, type 2 diabetes remains poorly-controlled in many, often because of poor self-management.
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