Ancient Herb for Modern Epidemic

Ancient Herb for Modern Epidemic
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The average fasting glucose (blood sugar) levels in the study group improved after 60 days of treatment with gymnema extract
The number of people affected by type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically in recent years, making the need for effective diabetes treatments more urgent than ever. Now researchers are reaching back in time, to a plant with a long history of medicinal use in India, to battle the modern day diabetes epidemic.

Gymnema vs. diabetes

Gymnema sylvestre is a climbing, vine-like plant that has been used in India for centuries to treat diabetes. To put the ancient herbal medicine to the test, researchers conducted a two-part study. Part one involved testing the effects of a gymnema supplement on 11 people with pre-existing or newly diagnosed diabetes. Part two looked at gymnema’s effects of on human islet cells in a laboratory. Islet cells are found in the pancreas and are responsible for secreting insulin, the hormone that the body uses to move sugar from blood into cells for energy.

The average fasting blood sugar (glucose) levels in the group improved after 60 days of treatment with 500 mg of gymnema extract given twice daily, from 162 mg/dl to 119 mg/dl. Average post-meal glucose levels also improved.

The second part demonstrated how gymnema may improve blood sugar levels: When islet cells were exposed to Gymnema sylvestre they secreted higher levels of insulin than when the plant extract was not present.

Is gymnema for you?

Keep the following in mind when considering adding this herb to your diabetes-management program.

  • Consider the numbers. This is one very small study, that did not have a control group. The results may not be applicable to everyone with type 2 diabetes. You may want to wait until the safety and effectiveness of this herb are more clearly demonstrated in large, controlled trials before trying it yourself.
  • Dial your doctor. Only you and your doctor, working together, can decide if gymnema may be right for you. This supplement may change how your body responds to other diabetes medications, so talk to your doctor before trying gymnema.
  • Go with the tried and true. One of the safest ways to better manage diabetes is to maintain a healthy body weight. If you are overweight, consider making a serious commitment to losing weight. Losing just 10% of your body weight, or 20 pounds for a 200 pound person, will improve how your body manages blood sugar levels.
  • Move more. Many people try to lose weight over and over, only to gain it back. If this describes you, make exercise your priority, not weight loss. Even if you never lose a pound, exercise alone will improve blood glucose levels. Exercise makes our cells more sensitive to insulin. That alone makes a brisk walk most days of the week—which is all it takes—worth your effort.

(Phytother Res 2010; 24:1370–6)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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