Complementary Care Can Help You Manage Diabetes

Patient Expert
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Many people who have diabetes use complementary care providers. But unlike conventional Western medicine, which is largely based on evidence, much complementary medicine lacks a solid research basis. Whether you will benefit from complementary medicine can depend on which complementary medicine you use.

Dietary supplements

This type of complementary care is the one that more Americans use than any other. It happens to be the most controversial type. About 18 percent of American adults use dietary supplements, not counting vitamins and minerals. But rigorous studies of supplements have been inconsistent in showing benefits.

Drugs in disguise

Supplements are drugs in disguise because unlike prescription medicine, supplements are not tested to see if they are safe or can help, and they generally aren’t standardized.

Fish oil

Fish oil is a common supplement. About eight percent of American adults take it for its vaunted benefits in avoiding heart disease, the biggest complication of diabetes. Salmon has the most omega-3 oils that help our hearts. But most “clinical trials involving fish oil have found no evidence that it lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.”

Yoga, tai chi, and qigong

Yoga is the most common of the three usual mind-body practices. If you have diabetes and your blood glucose level is too high, studies show that yoga may help. Other studies show that tai chi and qigong can minimize your risk of heart and lipid problems.

Chiropractic manipulation

Research shows that chiropractic manipulation is a safe and effective treatment for acute low back pain, neck pain, and headaches. But many chiropractors also recommend that people with diabetes use unproven diets and other treatments outside of their areas of expertise.


As of 2012, eight percent of Americans were meditating. Meditation came to the West as a spiritual practice, but growing numbers of us meditate to reduce stress. Several good studies have shown that it can help to reduce the stress of people who have diabetes, and one preliminary study indicates that it can lower A1C.


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that uses small needles inserted into the skin at strategic points. While evidence shows that it can reduce chronic pain, little research shows that it can help manage diabetes.

Special diets

Three percent of Americans in 2012 were following special diets such as vegetarian (including vegan), macrobiotic, Atkins, Pritikin, and Ornish diets. One study indicates that a vegetarian diet can help prevent heart disease, the most serious complication of diabetes.


While less than one percent of Americans use naturopathy, some people with diabetes try to manage their diabetes with it. But naturopathy is a philosophy based on a vitalism, rather than being based on science.

Other complementary practices

Americans are turning to a number of other complementary practices. Deep breathing exercises and massage therapy are commonly used, but the list also includes progressive relaxation, guided relaxation, Ayurveda, and more. They can help you feel better, but whether they have other benefits is questionable.