Author: Michael T. Murray, N.D.
Excerpt From: Diabetes and Hypoglycemia
Before the advent of insulin, diabetes and hypoglycemia were treated with plant medicines. In 1980, the World Health Organization urged researchers to examine whether traditional medicines possessed any real medicinal effects. In the last 20 years scientific investigation has, in fact, confirmed the efficacy of many of these preparations, some of which are remarkably effective. This discussion will, of necessity, be limited to a few plants–those that appear to be most effective.
A plant native to the tropical forests of India, Gymnema sylvestre has long been used as a treatment for diabetes. Recent scientific investigation has upheld its effectiveness in treating both type I and type II diabetes.
In one study, an extract of the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre was given to 27 patients with type I diabetes on insulin therapy. The effects were reduced insulin requirements, a decrease in blood sugar levels after fasting, and improved blood sugar control.
Gymnema extract has also caused positive results in the treatment of type II diabetes in one study, 22 type II diabetics were given gymnema extract along with their oral hypoglycemic drugs. All patients demonstrated improved blood sugar control; 21 out of the 22 were able to reduce their drug dosage considerably; and 5 subjects were able to discontinue their medication and maintain blood sugar control with the gymnema extract alone.
The dosage for Gymnema sylvestre extract is 400 milligrams per day for both type I and type II diabetics. It is interesting to note that gymnema extract is without side effects and that it exerts its blood sugar-lowering effects only in cases of diabetes. Gymnema extract given to healthy volunteers does not produce any blood sugar-lowering or hypoglycemic effects.
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also known as balsam pear, is a tropical fruit widely cultivated in Asia, Africa, and South America. The unripe fruit is eaten as a vegetable. Bitter melon is a green cucumber-shaped fruit, like a gourd, and it has bumps all over it. It looks like an ugly cucumber. Unripe bitter melon has been used extensively in folk medicine as a remedy for diabetes. The ability of the fresh juice or the extract of the unripe fruit to lower blood sugar has been clearly established.
Bitter melon contains several compounds with confirmed anti-diabetic properties. Charantin, extracted by alcohol, is an agent composed of mixed steroids that is more potent against hypoglycemia than the oral drug tolbutamide. Bitter melon also contains an insulinlike polypeptide, polypeptide-p, which lowers blood sugar levels.
The seeds of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) have demonstrated significant anti-diabetic effects in experimental and clinical studies. The active ingredient is in the defatted portion of the seed.
Human studies have confirmed these effects. Defatted fenugreek seed powder, given twice daily to insulin-dependent diabetics, resulted in significant reduction in fasting blood sugar and improved glucose tolerance test results.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), or European blueberry, is a shrubby perennial that grows in the woods and forest meadows of Europe. The fruit is a blue-black berry that differs from an American blueberry in that its meat is also blue-black. Bilberry-leaf tea has a long history as a folk treatment for diabetes. This use is supported by research, which has shown that oral administration reduces hyperglycemia in normal and diabetic dogs, even when glucose is injected intravenously at the same time. Although this research is interesting, it is thought that the berries, or extracts of the berries, offer even greater benefit than the tea.
The active components of bilberries are flavonoids-specifically, anthocyanosides. Anthocyanosides are among the most potent flavonoids.
Pterocarpus marsupium has a long history of use in India as a treatment for diabetes. The flavonoid epicatechin is extracted from the bark of this plant. Epicatechin has been shown to prevent beta cell damage in rats. Further, both epicatechin and a crude alcohol extract of pterocarpus have actually regenerated pancreatic beta cells in diabetic animals. Epicatechin is also found in green tea (tea made of Camelia sinensis).
Several plant-derived medicines exert effects that are of substantial benefit to people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. These herbs are effective and nontoxic. Documentation substantiates their efficacy.