Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Nutritional supplements for diabetes sold on the internet: business or health promotion?

Loredana Covolo1, Michela Capelli2, Elisabetta Ceretti1, Donatella Feretti1, Luigi Caimi3 and Umberto Gelatti1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical and Surgical Specialties, Radiological Sciences and Public Health, University of Brescia, Viale Europa 11, Brescia 25123, Italy

2 Post-graduate School of Public Health. University of Brescia, Viale Europa 11, Brescia 25123, Italy

3 Quality and Technology Assessment, Governance and Communication Strategies in Health Systems” Study and Research Centre - University of Brescia, Viale Europa 11, Brescia 25123, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:777  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-777

Published: 26 August 2013



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.


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.


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.


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.

Nutritional supplements; Online sales; Diabetes mellitus