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Plants and herbs have long been part of conventional treatment for type 2 diabetes. Here are three of the most effective.
Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedy, even if you are taking it for something other than diabetes. Many herbs can affect blood pressure and liver function, and they may interfere with medications that you are taking.
If you take herbal medicines, it is essential to monitor your blood glucose closely – to help your doctor decide on changes in your medication dosage, to tell if the herbal medicine is working and, if it is, to guard against hypoglycaemia. While any herbal medicine may work for you, remember that it can never replace diabetes medication or insulin, even if it allows you to reduce their dosages.
A woody plant found in tropical forests in India and Africa, Gymnema sylvestre has been used as a remedy for diabetes for centuries. Its name in Hindi is gurmar, or ‘sugar destroyer’, and chewing the leaves is said to take away your taste for sweetness. Laboratory analyses have found that gymnema boosts the activity of enzymes that help cells take up glucose, so there is less glucose in the blood.
More than a decade ago, animal studies found that gymnema lowers blood glucose – but not in animals whose pancreases had been removed. These findings led researchers to theorise that gymnema may reduce high blood glucose by:
- boosting the release of insulin;
- stimulating insulin-making beta cells in the pancreas; and
- increasing the number of beta cells.
Does it work in people? Herbalists believe that if any herb will bring down your blood glucose, it’s gymnema, but there is a shortage of controlled studies to confirm that assertion.
In one study from a medical institute in India, type 2 diabetes patients who took gymnema in addition to diabetes medication reduced their average blood glucose levels more than a control group who took only the diabetes medication. About a quarter of those taking gymnema were able to stop their diabetes medication completely, but not their regular physical activity and healthy eating plan!
If you try it Expect an effect – and be sure to inform your doctor so they can coordinate your herb doses and the rest of your treatment. Safety studies have not been done on gymnema, but it has a long history and there are no known reports of unpleasant side effects. The lack of data makes gymnema inappropriate for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Beyond that, the main concern is that blood glucose may fall too low, especially if the herb is taken with a diabetes medication.
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