By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (June 1, 2006)—People with diabetes might be well-advised to take a zinc supplement to lower their cholesterol levels and reduce their heart disease risk.
About 150 million people worldwide, and more than 17 million in the United States, have diabetes, and more people are diagnosed every year. Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels because the cells in the body don’t respond to insulin, the hormone that signals when glucose (blood sugar) needs to be stored. Over time, the extra glucose in the blood damages many tissues in the body, including the blood vessels. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels are often high in people with diabetes, contributing to their high risk of heart disease.
Some trace mineral supplements have been found to help people with diabetes. Among these are chromium and vanadium, which can stimulate a better response to insulin. Zinc is a trace mineral needed for normal immune and neurological functioning. Oysters, meat, liver, eggs, wheat germ, split peas, and pumpkin seeds are some of the best sources of zinc. As many as 50% of the US population do not get enough zinc from their diets, and diabetics are especially prone to zinc deficiency.
A new study published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy looked at the effect of a zinc supplement on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in men with diabetes. The 27 men in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. During the first 12-week trial, one group received 100 mg of zinc sulfate, which provides 36 mg of elemental zinc, per day while the other group received a placebo. After a 20-day waiting period, the groups were switched for another 12 weeks. Total cholesterol and triglyceride levels dropped, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels rose in the people taking zinc during both phases of the study.
These results add to the evidence that supplementing with zinc might help diabetics decrease heart disease risk. Larger and longer trials are needed to confirm this effect, particularly in women, and to determine if smaller amounts of zinc have the same benefits.
“These initial results are promising,” said Matt Herbert, an LPN/EMT who works in a clinic that provides medical care and healthy lifestyle support to people with diabetes. “With the costs of medications soaring beyond most people’s means, it’s nice to know that alternatives exist that might be effective.” Whether combining zinc therapy with the lifestyle changes he promotes will have a more pronounced effect than zinc alone remains to be studied.
In the meantime, based on the positive findings of the current study and the safety and low cost of zinc, healthcare providers should consider recommending a zinc supplement to people with diabetes, especially those found to be deficient. A small amount of copper (about 1 to 3 mg per day) should also be recommended to anyone taking extra zinc for a long time, to avoid depletion.
(Biomed Pharmacother 2006 [in press])
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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