Can a Supplement Really Control Blood Sugar?

Since the days of the traveling medicine shows of the Old West in 19th century America, people have been looking for a magic elixir, a special potion that will cure them of everything from a nagging backache to gout.  If the skyrocketing sales of supplements today can tell us anything, it’s that human nature has not changed and we are still seeking a safe and effective short cut to improve our bodies and our health.  However, the necessity of considering both the risks and benefits of supplements cannot be overstated.

One of the hottest selling supplements today is chromium picolinate, which its advocates claim can control both diabetes and weight. Even the (*) U.S. Food Drug Administration (FDA) in 2005 gave manufacturers permission to include a qualified statement to the effect that their product could possibly decrease resistance to insulin and perhaps help keep type 2 diabetes in check.

How Does the Body Use Chromium and Picolinate?

The human body requires miniscule amounts of (*) chromium, which has been found to aid insulin by effectively moving sugar from the bloodstream into the cells where it can boost energy.  From the late 1950s it was often prescribed only to persons with documented chromium deficiencies.  Picolinate aids the absorption of chromium.  

The generally accepted daily allowance of chromium is 30 to 35 micrograms for men and 20 to 25 micrograms for women.  While the majority of the population tends to take in less than this, chromium deficiency is not seen as a major health issue.  The mineral is present in foods such as cheese, bread made from whole grains and cereal.  However, low levels of chromium may lead to higher bad (LDL) cholesterol, an increase in triglycerides, as well as interfering with the body’s production of insulin.

Are There Any Studies to Support Claims?

Chromium picolinate is available at most health food stores, and some supplement manufacturers combine it with other ingredients.  They often claim that their product also controls weight and reduces body fat.   A look at a popular, though over-priced, brand name along with what the experts say about how the ingredients work will shed some light on whether these claims are exaggerated.

Glucosulin, for example, contains 50 micrograms in every capsule and there are 90 capsules in each bottle, which is sold for $50 (31.1 pounds or 34.5 euros).  Each capsule also contains 928 micrograms of these combined ingredients:  konjac root, sodium alginate, xanthum gum, mulberry extract, and gymnema slyvestre extract.  The makers of Glucosulin suggest a daily dosage of four capsules, or 200 micrograms be taken, which is in agreement with practitioners at the Medical Center for the (*) University of Maryland. According to (*) Joe Cannon, who reviewed Glucosulin, all of the ingredients except sodium alginate may lower blood sugar.

Mulberry Extract: (*) Dr. Ray Sahelian, who writes convincingly about this ingredient, says that mulberry extract has antioxidants and may also lower blood sugar.  Additionally, he cites a study that showed mulberry extract interfered with the absorption of carbohydrates.  It has a laxative effect.  Studies have not yet determined a recommended dosage or how much of mulberry extract would be harmful.

Xanthum Gum:  According to (*) WebMD, this food additive is used to lower both cholesterol and blood sugar in people with diabetes.  It can also be used to thicken up the smoothies you make with raw food.  It is safe in quantities of 15 grams per day. Above that level it may cause some digestive discomfort.

Gymnema Slyvestre: An article on the website for (*) Wellness Resources cites two animal studies that found gymnema slyvestre lowered blood sugar levels by encouraging the pancreas to increase insulin production.

Are There Risks?

Glucosulin is a dietary supplement whose very name aligns it with products for diabetes.  If you have type 2 diabetes, it is best to talk to your doctor before taking supplements of any kind, but especially ones that are said to affect blood sugar levels.  There may be a risk that it interferes with your (*) prescribed medications.  If all those extra ingredients concern you, but you are still interested in the blood sugar benefits of plain chromium picolinate, it is possible to buy supplements for around $10 (6.2 pounds or 7 euros).

After looking for that quick answer to blood sugar control, the safest, least expensive answer comes back to improving nutrition and getting adequate exercise.  Supplements have their place, but it you really want to know what you’re getting, use a healthy smoothie recipe to control diabetes or reduce your blood sugar level.

(*) References
  • Chromium on Health Library:
  • University of Maryland - Reference on
  • Joe Cannon reference on
  • Dr Ray Sahelihan, M.D. reference
  • WebMD reference -
  • Wellness Resources:
  • Prescribed medications - Supplements: 

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