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May 26, 2000

Alternative Therapies and Explanations

Question from Ferndale, Washington, USA:

My 5 year old son was diagnosed with type 1 just over a year ago. We have recently seen a naturopath who put him on a herb therapy. Within 4 days, we had to cut down his insulin 50% and have maintained good control with significantly less insulin since (1 month). As a test, my husband didn't give him herbs for two days and immediately had to double his insulin to control sugars, but, after a couple days of herbs, we are back down to half the dose again. The naturopath says with using less insulin he will be using what is left of his pancreas instead of letting it die off. As he grows, his pancreas will also grow with him and produce the beta cells it normally would have for adulthood. They claim they have had children off of insulin after a few years of herbs, good blood sugar control (with diet and insulin) and physical growth. What is your thought on this and is there a benefit to using less insulin as long as sugars are kept in a good range? Does the pancreas produce more cells as it grows with the body?


It is possible that your son has a form of diabetes that has been quite recently recognised and is called Type�1B. It presents in exactly the same way as the more common autoimmune form; but in about 50% of cases the blood glucose levels can be controlled with much less or even no insulin after a few weeks or months. Present evidence is that insulin will again be needed at a later stage.

There is no evidence that herbal remedies are of anything but placebo benefit and certainly there is no evidence that insulin producing cells increase again with growth. You really should talk to your son’s doctor about the herbalist’s recommendations.

Additional comments from Dr. Stuart Brink:

There is no scientific data at all about using any herbal or “naturopathic” medications in type 1 diabetes. What your naturopath has proposed is almost exactly the opposite of what most pediatric diabetes experts propose. Most of us try to “save” the damaged beta cells from overworking by providing sufficient insulin and thereby hope to allow the beta cells to work for a longer period of time. There is no good scientific data for this or the “naturopathic” theory you’ve been quoted. In addition, none of the herbal medications are standardized so that you do not know what is in them, whether or not you are giving the same or different amounts of “natural” chemicals each time etc. There is also some philosophical discussion needed about such experimentation with children that is separate from the lack of scientific data upon which to make recommendations.

The bottom line still remains: control the blood glucose levels without causing excessive or severe episodes of hypoglycemia and thus following the day to day glucose levels and hemoglobin A1c levels is the best. My own recommendation to patients is not to use untested products or medications.