Type 2 diabetes — it’s a growing problem in North America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes (6.3% of the population) — and that was just in 2002! With the obesity epidemic taking over in this country, the diabetes numbers have been skyrocketing. Because it’s such a huge issue — and a disease without a cure — we’re always looking for alternative ways to prevent or treat diabetes. This time, though, it seems that the news I have to bring you isn’t so great: zinc has failed to live up to its reputation as a supplement for Type 2 diabetes prevention.
Type 2 diabetes is the more common type of the condition, most often found in obese adults. It occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient insulin or when the body doesn’t make proper use of the insulin produced. The insulin hormone is instrumental in providing the body with the energy needed to perform vital functions.
Diabetes is manageable if you make the right lifestyle changes and follow proper treatment guidelines. However, if you do not address this health issue properly, it can lead to many complications including heart disease, nerve damage, kidney problems, and blindness. In 2000, the CDC had diabetes ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the country. This is not even taking into account the many more fatalities in which it is a contributing factor and not a direct cause such as heart attack and stroke.
In laboratories, zinc has been shown to have a beneficial role in boosting the production and function of insulin. Of course, once they heard this, supplement companies jumped on the bandwagon. For years, zinc has been touted as a key supplement in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that exists in small amounts within the human body, but that must also be bolstered by eating the right foods (e.g. oysters, beans, and nuts). It’s a necessary part of countless bodily functions — including growth, immune system function, appetite control, and reproduction. It’s also believed to be an antioxidant, meaning that it could help protect against many diseases, including heart disease. When it comes to diabetes, researchers have found zinc levels to be low in patients suffering from this disease — and then there are those laboratory findings I mentioned.
A recent research review article in The Cochrane Library, a medical journal, was aimed at checking out the proof backing up the claims about zinc’s effect on diabetes. The researchers looked at 192 clinical trials on zinc and insulin, as used to treat Type 2 diabetes. In disappointing results, only one — yes, one — study met the content and quality standards necessary just to be included in the report. It was a study on 56 obese women that came up with the conclusion that the mineral was not effective in influencing the development of diabetes. So, just one out of 192 studies was good enough — and its results weren’t even positive for the mineral.
Okay, this might look bad for zinc, but if you think about it, you’ll come up with the same conclusion that the reviewers did: there’s not enough evidence supporting any benefit of zinc in staving off Type 2 diabetes — but there’s also not enough proof against the supplement. So, the real finding here is that more good quality clinical studies must be done on zinc and its role in diabetes prevention and/or treatment.