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5 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take for Metabolic Syndrome

By Published On: June 2, 20245.2 min readViews: 1790 Comments on 5 Supplements You Shouldn’t Take for Metabolic Syndrome

Knowing your numbers—blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol—is important. Why? They clue you in on 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 raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Having at least three of them—high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and a larger waistline—may mean that you have metabolic syndrome.

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

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Supplements Not Recommended for Metabolic Syndrome

1. Chromium

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

There’s a lot of interest as to whether chromium supplements help with insulin resistance, a key feature of metabolic syndrome. “While some studies suggest chromium picolinate may improve insulin sensitivity, evidence is inconclusive and inconsistent,” says Michelle Routhenstein, M.S., RD, CDCES, a preventive cardiology dietitian at Entirely Nourished. (Chromium picolinate is a form of chromium supplement.) Unfortunately, smaller studies have found that chromium supplementation didn’t affect hemoglobin A1C levels, blood lipid levels or body weight.

In addition, there are health concerns, too. “Excessive intake may lead to negative side effects such as kidney damage and GI issues,” says Routhenstein. Furthermore, chromium supplements may interact with insulin and antidiabetic medications, since we still don’t know what effect, if any, the mineral has on blood sugars.

2. Niacin

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

Be careful about taking a niacin supplement if you have metabolic syndrome. A recent study found that for participants taking statin drugs, which lower cholesterol, adding a niacin supplement increased HDL. This is usually good—after all, HDL is the “good” kind of cholesterol. In this case, however, HDL levels skyrocketed so much it actually increased the risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup 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 certain risks. Studies are inconclusive as to the supplement’s benefits, but green tea is still included in supplements marketed for metabolic health and weight loss. Plus, studies have found that green tea may interact with various drugs used to treat cardiovascular issues, including rosuvastatin (Crestor), nadolol (Corgard) and warfarin (Jantoven, Coumadin). Furthermore, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that some people have experienced rare liver injury linked to taking green tea extract supplements marketed for weight loss.

4. Bitter Melon

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

That said, the message is different when it comes to bitter melon supplements. Research at this time is limited, so we don’t know how effective it is in diabetes. Plus, we aren’t sure if it’s safe to take bitter melon supplements long-term. One study found that it helped lower blood sugars in patients with type 2 diabetes when taken for 12 weeks (their A1C levels, however, didn’t change), and it was generally found to be safe. But again, this is a short-term study, and more data is needed before this is something that’s recommended.

5. Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (also known as silymarin) is another supplement you may have heard can help with diabetes or elevated blood sugars; however, the bottom line is that this isn’t backed by enough high-quality research. “There is simply no evidence on its effectiveness to treat metabolic syndrome or aid in liver health,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Mahesri, RDN. Taking milk thistle can also cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to similar plants like ragweed, marigold or daisy.

Alternative Approaches for Managing Metabolic Syndrome

Rather than turning to supplements as the first approach for managing metabolic syndrome, changing up your lifestyle can help. Here’s what to do:

  • Focus on your diet: Eating a well-rounded 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 what foods you are adding to the diet versus removing, and encourage fiber-rich, well-balanced meals to help regulate blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol levels,” says Routhenstein. 
  • Lifestyle changes: Other health-promoting behaviors worth incorporating are 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.
  • Seek out your health care team: “Monitoring your cardiometabolic risk factors by going to regular physical checkups and checking your blood pressure at home can help you monitor your progress, make adjustments as needed, and tailor your plan to help manage metabolic syndrome,” says Routhenstein. In addition, a registered dietitian can support you in adopting a healthy eating pattern that fits your lifestyle, budget and preferences.

The Bottom Line

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


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