Help Arrives for Diabetes Supplements

David Mendosa Health Guide
  • Sixty-eight percent of American adults take nutritional or dietary supplements, according to a 2012 customer survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. That percentage may be even higher for those of us who have diabetes.


    Diabetics have two separate challenges with supplements. The first is to decide which ones we need. The second is to find those that are safe, effective and the best value.


    I have long argued that we have no way of knowing which -- if any -- supplements are worth taking. In the United States, because of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t allowed to regulate supplements as long as the manufacturers don’t make any claims about preventing or treating disease. Consequently, the FDA can regulate supplements only as a food, and not as it regulates pharmaceutical drugs, which must be tested to ensure they are both safe and effective.

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    The law, in fact, prohibits the FDA from doing anything about supplements unless they do harm. The agency reports 50,000 health problems from supplements each year. It estimates that 70 percent of these supplement companies don’t follow basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products.


    Nonetheless, like almost everyone who has diabetes I take some supplements. I consume them on faith, which could be misplaced. My current supplements, broadly defined, are these:


    Vitamins: Vitamin D-3 5,000 IU


    Minerals: Potassium plus iodine: 225 mcg iodine and 99 mg potassium; Rising Mag64: slow-acting magnesium 128 mg and calcium 224 mg/bid.


    Supplements that are neither vitamins nor minerals: Pycnogenol 100 mg/bid.; grape seed 250 mg/bid.; benfotiamine 150 mg/bid. (I’m taking these with the intent of reversing a microaneurysm in my left eye.)


    But even when we hope that the benefits of taking a supplement are greater than the risks, we haven’t had a way of determining which brands to buy. That, however, is beginning to change.


    The breakthrough is the first free website dedicated to testing and publicizing tests of these supplements. The site is Labdoor. Its founder and CEO is Neil Thanedar. He is a young man with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. His site went live a year ago. Labdoor gives us the information without cost or any industry ties. It makes money from non-product advertisements, subscriptions to its premium services, and from licensing its content and grades.


    Backing Labdoor are Rock Health and the Mayo Clinic, two leading healthcare organizations. Angel investors such as Mark Cuban and leading venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and Aberdare Ventures also back Labdoor’s work. 


    Testing and analysis of supplements is time-consuming work. To date, Labdoor has tested brands in three categories: protein powders, energy drinks, and fish oil.


    “Currently we have tested and ranked 50 protein powders, 25 energy drinks and 30 fish oil supplements,” Thanedar told me.  “Over the next 45 days we will add 20 vitamin D pills and 75 multivitamin supplements.”


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    The forthcoming test of vitamin D pills promises to be exceptionally useful for all of us who take them every day. With Labdoor’s help, we are beginning to get a handle on the supplements we take.


Published On: January 28, 2014