Ways to Avoid Diabetes Product Scams

You have diabetes, and it can be challenging to manage. You’re watching TV one night and there’s a commercial for a product that says it can cure all of your diabetes woes, magically lowering your blood sugar. You wonder: Should I order that?

The lure of products that may not do all that they claim is understandable when you have diabetes. But that doesn’t mean everything that’s said to help you will actually do so.

“The unfortunate fact is that living with diabetes is difficult,” says Brian Dunning, a Laguna Niguel, California-based science writer and director of the film “Principles of Curiosity,” which focuses on how to evaluate dubious claims. “People who have diabetesare always going to be on the lookout for ways to improve their situation. In some cases, they get desperate. And when there is desperation, unfortunately, there are always charlatans waiting to take advantage.”

Another reason that someone with diabetes may turn to products that are not medications is because they want to try something more natural, says endocrinologist Dr. Deena Adimoolam, an assistant professor of diabetes, endocrinology and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Products advertised for diabetes outside of medications can include – but aren’t limited to – supplements, herbs, juices, shakes, “miracle” pills or products said to quickly help diabetes complications like diabetic neuropathy. These products may claim to lower blood sugar, reduce weight, cure complications or stifle your appetite. There are also books that heavily promote specific plans for weight loss to cure diabetes but don’t have the evidence to back up what they say, Dunning says.

Generally speaking, the nutritional products mentioned above are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is the federal government agency that requires rigorous clinical studies before it will approve medications and medical devices. The studies required by the FDA help to ensure a product is as safe as possible. Still, products not approved by the FDA may appeal to people with diabetes if they’re easy to obtain and at a lower cost, says nurse practitioner Stephen Ferrara, an associate dean of clinical affairs and assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.

Health products and supplements not backed by the FDA do not undergo the same rigorous studies, and because they are sold as supplements, their manufacturers can make claims not supported by scientific evidence, Ferrara says. Additionally, the ingredients in supplements or similar nutritional products may vary widely from brand to brand.

The FDA approval process tends to run very slow, so it’s not perfect, Ferrara says. However, he notes that it does help to prevent scam treatments in diabetes.

Although not all diabetes products that you see advertised will harm you – except maybe your wallet – they won’t necessarily help you, Dunning says. “Where they become a risk is when they replace actual medical treatment,” he says.

Here are four ways to help avoid diabetes product scams:

Talk to your health professional about any treatments you are considering. He or she can help separate science from marketing hype. “Diabetes is a medical condition. When your car breaks down, you don’t take it to an accountant. When you have a medical problem, you need to seek medical care,” Dunning says.

Sometimes, certain products that aren’t medications may have some benefit, says physician assistant Daryl Wein, author of “Type 2 Diabetes: The Owner’s Manual.” Wein practices in Oakdale, California, and also has Type 2 diabetes. For example, cinnamon may have a slight positive effect on lowering blood sugar. However, that doesn’t mean it’s enough to make any major investment. “If you want to eat more cinnamon, go for it, but don’t expect much benefit from it,” Wein says. Again, check with your health provider first.

Some herbs that are helpful for diabetes can be added in small quantities, Adimoolam says. “I recommend using them in addition to medication and lifestyle to help control diabetes,” she says.

Be wary of certain buzzwords. If a product says that it’s “breakthrough,” “revolutionary” or “clinically proven” (with no studies to back it up), think twice before you buy. “FDA authorized” or “FDA cleared” are other phrases you might read or hear, when there’s really no such thing, Wein says. “FDA approved” is what is used for a product approved by the FDA.

If a product says it has dozens or hundreds of uses, that’s another reason to be cautious, Wein says.

And just because a product says it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for your health.

Dunning also adds what he says is the “king of all red flags”: the word “miracle.” “If you see it, you are being scammed, guaranteed,” he says.

Be skeptical of recommendations from friends and family. Just because a friend or family member touts a product, that doesn’t mean it’s scientifically effective or will work for your diabetes, Wein cautions.

Let your health professional know about anything you are using for your diabetes. “Providers need to be aware of all medications, supplements and alternative treatments so that we can properly adjust prescription medication accordingly, since it’s possible that blood sugar levels can improve with some supplements,” Ferrara says.

You can use the Dietary Supplement Label Database from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health to help obtain additional information about specific supplement brands. You can share and discuss information from that database with your health providers about products that you are using.

Additionally, you can check the FDA’s website to see if a particular product is approved for diabetes, Adimoolam suggests.