Nutritional Supplements for Diabetes Sold on the Internet

Business or Health Promotion?

Loredana Covolo; Michela Capelli; Elisabetta Ceretti; Donatella Feretti; Luigi Caimi; Umberto Gelatti


BMC Public Health. 2013;13(777) 

In This Article


Background Diabetes is one of the most widespread chronic disease. Although many medications are available for the treatment and prevention of diabetes, many people turn to nutritional supplements (NSs). In these years, the online sales have contributed to the growth of use of nutritional supplement. The aim of the research was to investigate the type of information provided by sales websites on NSs, and analyse the existence of scientific evidence about some of the most common ingredients found in available NSs for diabetes.

Methods A web search was conducted in April 2012 to identify web sites selling NSs in the treatment of diabetes using Google, Yahoo and Bing! and the key word used was "diabetes nutritional supplements". Website content was evaluated for the quality of information available to consumers and for the presence of a complete list of ingredients in the first NS suggested by the site. Subsequently, in order to analyze the scientific evidence on the efficacy of these supplements a PubMed search was carried out on the ingredients that were shared in at least 3 nutritional supplements.

Results A total of 10 websites selling NSs were selected. Only half of the websites had a Food and Drug Administration disclaimer and 40% declared clearly that the NS offered was not a substitute for proper medication. A total of 10 NS ingredients were searched for on PubMed. Systematic reviews, meta-analyses or randomized control trials were present for all the ingredients except one. Most of the studies, however, were of poor quality and/or the results were conflicting.

Conclusions Easy internet access to NSs lacking in adequate medical information and strong scientific evidence is a matter of public health concern, mainly considering that a misleading information could lead to an improper prevention both in healthy people and people suffering from diabetes. There is a clear need for more trials to assess the efficacy and safety of these NSs, better quality control of websites, more informed physicians and greater public awareness of these widely used products.