5 Supplements You Should Not Take for Metabolic Syndrome

Knowing your numbers (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol) is important. For what? They tell you if you have metabolic syndrome, a condition that affects about 1 in 3 adults in the United States. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Having three or more of them – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and a larger waistline – may mean you have metabolic syndrome.

It can be scary to receive this diagnosis, so you might be eager to treat and reverse metabolic syndrome. Lifestyle changes (we’ll talk about that in a moment) absolutely make a difference, but what about supplements? Unfortunately, some supplements may be ineffective or even harmful, which means you should avoid them. Here’s what you need to know.

Supplements not recommended for metabolic syndrome

1. Chromium

Chromium is an essential mineral that may be linked to metabolic syndrome. In fact, a study of young adults found that a lower concentration of chromium in toenails was associated with higher rates of developing metabolic syndrome in later decades.

There is much interest in whether chromium supplements help with insulin resistance, a key feature of metabolic syndrome. “Although some studies suggest that chromium picolinate may improve insulin sensitivity, the evidence is inconclusive and inconsistent,” says Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDCES, preventive cardiology dietitian at Fully Nourished. (Chromium picolinate is a supplement form of chromium.) Unfortunately, smaller studies have shown that chromium supplementation does not affect hemoglobin A1C levels, blood lipid levels, or body weight.

Added to this are health problems. “Excessive consumption can lead to negative side effects such as kidney damage and gastrointestinal problems,” says Routhenstein. Additionally, chromium supplements may interact with insulin and diabetes medications, as we still don’t know what effect, if any, this mineral has on blood sugar levels.

2. Niacin

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is another essential nutrient that some people believe helps with metabolic syndrome. One of the major roles of niacin in the body is to convert food into energy. It also contributes to the synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.

Be careful when taking a niacin supplement if you have metabolic syndrome. A recent study found that for participants taking statins, which lower cholesterol, adding a niacin supplement increased HDL. This is generally good – after all, HDL is the “good” cholesterol. In this case, however, HDL levels climbed so much that they increase the risk of atherosclerosis (accumulation of plaque in the arteries).

3. Green tea

Drinking up to 6 to 8 cups of green tea per day is generally safe, but taking green tea supplements poses some risks. Studies are inconclusive regarding the supplement’s benefits, but green tea is still included in supplements marketed for metabolic health and weight loss. Additionally, studies have shown that green tea may interact with various medications used to treat cardiovascular problems, including rosuvastatin (Crestor), nadolol (Corgard), and warfarin (Jantoven, Coumadin). Additionally, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says some people have experienced rare liver damage linked to taking green tea extract supplements marketed for weight loss.

4. Bitter melon

When it comes to bitter melon, some promising research suggests that the fruit may contain a specific nutrient that mimics insulin, helping with blood sugar management. You can definitely cook with bitter melon as part of a diabetic diet.

That said, the message is different when it comes to bitter melon supplements. Currently, research is limited so we don’t know how effective it is for diabetes. Additionally, we don’t know if it’s safe to take bitter melon supplements long term. One study found that it helped lower blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes when taken for 12 weeks (their A1C levels, however, did not change), and it generally proven to be safe. But again, this is a short-term study and more data is needed before we can recommend this study.

5. Milk thistle

Milk thistle (also known as silymarin) is another supplement that you may have heard can help with diabetes or high blood sugar; however, the bottom line is that this is not supported by enough high-quality research. “There is simply no evidence that it works for treating metabolic syndrome or improving liver health,” says Lauren Mahesri, RDN, registered dietitian and nutritionist. Taking milk thistle may also cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to similar plants like ragweed, marigold, or daisy.

Alternative Approaches to Managing Metabolic Syndrome

Rather than relying on supplements as the first approach to managing metabolic syndrome, making lifestyle changes can help. Here’s what to do:

  • Focus on your diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a great way to support metabolic health. Limit your intake of saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and alcohol. “Focus on adding foods to your diet rather than removing them, and encourage high-fiber, well-balanced meals to help regulate blood sugar and improve cholesterol levels,” says Routhenstein.
  • Lifestyle changes: Other health-promoting behaviors worth integrating include physical activity, stress management, smoking cessation and sleep. Specifically, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
  • Find your healthcare team: “Monitoring your cardiometabolic risk factors by performing regular physical exams and checking your blood pressure at home can help you track your progress, make necessary adjustments, and adapt your plan to help manage metabolic syndrome,” Routhenstein explains. In addition, a registered dietitian can help you adopt healthy eating habits adapted to your lifestyle, budget and preferences.

The essential

Metabolic syndrome puts you at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, but making lifestyle changes can help you manage risk factors to promote your health. Supplements may seem like a quick and helpful solution, but this is usually not the case. Additionally, some may even cause more harm than good, or there may simply not be enough research to support their effectiveness. It’s always a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement, especially if it is for the purpose of managing a condition like metabolic syndrome.

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Gn Health

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