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Herbal Remedies for Blood Sugar
Do you know that gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre) can block the sweet taste of sugar and increase the population of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas? Or that the active ingredients of prickly pear cactus can substitute for insulin? Find out the other promising hypoglycemic potentials of these 9 herbs, all of which are proven to help lower blood sugar levels and improve glycemic control.
Ginseng is a popular herb belonging to the Panax family. Of its many varieties, the most commonly used ones in traditional medicine are the Asian ginseng, Panax ginseng, and the related American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius.
Both of these varieties are used in traditional medicine as stimulants and aphrodisiacs and to treat male sexual problems as well as type 2 diabetes.
Ginseng is an adaptogen that can help the body fight off infections and stress even while it boosts the immune system. However, it has more specific benefits for diabetics.
The antidiabetic properties of ginseng is well-studied. In one Canadian study published in 2000, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto demonstrated that ginseng supplement can lower blood glucose levels by as much as 20%.
In this study, the researchers found that 3 grams of ginseng extract given 40 minutes before meals reduced blood glucose levels in both diabetics and non-diabetics. In addition, ginseng produced the same effect in diabetics even when they were given ginseng along with meals.
Lastly, the researchers showed that ginseng doses above 3 grams did not produce additional benefits.
In a follow-up study done in 2001, the researchers found out that ginseng doses between 1 grams and 3 grams lowered blood glucose levels to the same extent. Furthermore, they determined that the best results were obtained when ginseng was taken 40 minutes before meal.
Therefore, experts recommend 1 – 3 grams of ginseng supplement to be taken 3 times daily. Each dose should be taken at least 30 minutes before meals.
Fenugreek belongs to the Fabaceae family. It is used as a spice and vegetable in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes because of its sweet smell and medicinal properties.
The part of fenugreek commonly used to prepare medicinal remedies is the seed.
Fenugreek seed extract is traditionally used to increase milk production in lactating women. However, modern science has confirmed new uses for this herb. New evidence from recent studies demonstrate the fenugreek can improve male libido.
However, the most important medicinal use of fenugreek is due to its antidiabetic property.
Several human and animal studies have confirmed that fenugreek can reduce blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol levels. Researchers believe that these antidiabetic benefits are partly due to the high fiber content of fenugreek seeds as well as an insulin-boosting amino acid.
In an open study published in the journal, Nutritional Research, 25 grams per day given to 60 type 2 diabetes patients prevented spiking blood sugar levels after a meal.
A similar study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition achieved the same results with 15 grams per day of fenugreek.
The antidiabetic effects of fenugreek is also beneficial for people living with type 1 diabetes.
In one study, 50 grams of fenugreek given twice daily with meals significantly reduced fasting blood sugar in a group of type 1 diabetes patients.
The recommended dose of fenugreek extract is 5 – 30 grams taken 3 times daily with each meal. Alternatively, 15 – 90 grams can be taken once daily with a meal.
Onion and garlic are related plants and both belong to the Allium family.
Both plants have high fiber content and contain a number of medicinal sulfur compounds. These plants are known to improve cardiovascular health, reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood sugar levels.
Onion is rich in antioxidants as well as compounds with anticancer, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.
In one study, a sulfur-containing amino acid, S-methyl cysteine sulfoxide, extracted from onion was administered to a group of diabetic rats over a period of 45 days. During this period, the onion extract controlled blood glucose levels as well as improved lipid profile and liver functions.
In a human study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, a group of diabetic patients experienced improved glycemic control after they were given single, oral dose (50 grams) of onion juice with their meals.
Garlic shares most of the medicinal benefits of onion including its hypoglycemic activities.
The sulfur compound responsible for the antidiabetic properties of garlic is known as allicin. Like the sulfur compound in onion, allicin competes with insulin in the liver. Basically, it prevents the body from breaking down insulin by binding to the enzymes responsible for destroying insulin.
Holy basil is a garden plant originally native to Asia especially India. It is known as tulsi in Indian traditional medicine and it has been used for centuries to treat diabetes, asthma and stress.
Basil is rich in essential oils including antioxidant phenols. These oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Basil also has some immunostimulant, antitumor and antiplatelet activities.
Holy basil leaf extract can help normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that the extract of holy basil can reduce blood sugar levels by 18%.
The hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects of this herb have also been demonstrated in diabetic rats.
These animal studies shed more light on the antidiabetic benefits of holy basil. In one study, the administration of holy basil leaf extract increased the accumulation of glycogen in the kidneys by 1,000% even while it reduced the glycogen content of the skeletal muscles (by 68%) and liver (by 75%).
This means that holy basil promotes the storage of glycogen at sites where it will not be easily released to raise the blood level of glucose.
The benefits of holy basil for diabetics extends beyond simply preventing spikes in glucose levels. It can also help prevent cardiovascular complications by improving blood lipid profile.
In Indian traditional medicine, holy basil is usually taken as herbal tea. 1 teaspoon of the dried herb prepared as tea should be taken 3 times daily.
Bitter melon or Momordica charantia is also known as balsam pear. It is commonly eaten as food and used as medicinal herb in different cultures.
A number of studies have confirmed the hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon. One such study was published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy in 2003. In another study conducted in the Philippines, supplementation with bitter melon pills for 3 months produced a slight but significant and consistent reduction in blood sugar levels in the participants.
Scientists believe that bitter melon work by blocking the absorption of sugars from the gastrointestinal tract while improving the uptake and utilization of glucose by the cells of the body.
Bitter melon is available as dried herb, tea decoction and fresh juice. From available studies, taking 2 ounces (or 3 – 6 tablespoons) of bitter melon juice daily produced remarkable results.
Gurmar or Gymnema sylvestre is a plant herb native to Sri Lanka and India where it has been used to treat diabetes for over a millennium.
The medicinal benefits of gurmar leaf extracts in the treatment of diabetes is well-studied and the results showed that it can help reduce blood sugar by multiple mechanisms.
The anti-sweet property of gurmar is due to a group of glycosides known as gymnemic acids. These glycosides block sugar receptors in the tongue and the blockage can last for as long as 2 hours.
The other antidiabetic active ingredients in gurmar are also structurally similar to gymnemic acids.
To increase insulin secretion, the water-soluble leaf extract of gurmar actually stimulates the regeneration of beta cells in the pancreas. This unique capability makes gurmar effective for managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, the increased stimulation of insulin triggered by gurmar is not sufficient to recommend the herb as a replacement for prescribed insulin in diabetes therapy. On the other hand, one Indian study reported that 1 in 4 diabetes patient successfully replaced their medications with gurmar.
Studies have also indicated that the gurmar can only reduce blood sugar in diabetic patients. In addition, it can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in both diabetics and non-diabetics.
The recommended dose of gurmar leaf extract is 200 – 250 mg taken twice daily.
The usual daily dose used in studies is 400 mg. In one study, this dose was found to be safe, effective and well-tolerated for the 24-month duration of the study. This dose has also been safely combined with insulin in the management of type 1 diabetes.
Prickly pear cactus or Opuntia streptacantha is also known as nopal.
This cactus fruit is eaten as food. Local inhabitants of the deserts where this cactus grow use it for treating diabetes.
Experts believe prickly pear cactus reduce blood sugar level because it contains active ingredients that are functionally similar to insulin. Therefore, the phytochemicals in prickly pear cactus may increase the storage of blood glucose and/or stimulate cells to utilize glucose more.
In addition, the high fiber content of this herbal fruit may contribute to its hypoglycemic effects.
Different studies have confirmed that prickly pear cactus can reduce blood sugar levels especially after meals. In addition, it was shown to reduce the level of glycosylated hemoglobin, a marker of prolonged high blood sugar level.
When taken as food, ½ cup of cooked prickly pear cactus a day is recommended for better glycemic control.
Salacia refers to a family of woody climbers native to India and Sri Lanka. Plants from this species are commonly used as traditional remedies in Ayurveda medicine to treat diabetes.
Recent studies have confirmed that at least one plant from this family, Salacia oblonga, has a potent antidiabetic property.
In one study, researchers gave 39 healthy adults extracts of this plant. The results of the study showed that this herb can reduce insulin and glucose levels.
This group of participants were divided into four and each of them given 2 cups of beverage. Different doses (500 mg, 750 mg and 1,000 mg) of salacia extract were added to the drinks given to 3 of the 4 groups. Thereafter, blood was drawn every 15 – 30 minutes for 3 hours from the participants.
The researchers noted that the best results were obtained in the participants who took 1,000 mg of salacia extract. On average, this group experienced 29% reduction in insulin level and 23% reduction in blood glucose level compared to the control group.
These improvements in glycemic control and insulin sensitivity are similar to results obtained from prescription diabetes drugs.
Experts believe that the active phytochemical in salacia binds to a group of enzymes known as alpha glucosidases. These enzymes are responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars in the intestines.
By inhibiting these enzymes, salacia reduces the amount of glucose absorbed into the body.
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