Article Excerpt from: GreenWise, October 2006
Pair Herbs with Conventional Treatments to Help Tame the Effects of Diabetes
Chalk up another one for Mother Nature. Most people with diabetes rely on drugs and lifestyle modifications to moderate their body chemistry. But a host of natural herbal supplements may further help them manage blood glucose levels, improve their vision, and alleviate a variety of diabetes-related health problems.
A complex disease, diabetes occurs when the body can’t convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy because the hormone insulin isn’t available in sufficient quantities or doesn’t properly respond. Unchecked, the disease can lead to widespread complications, from blindness to damage to the blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, feet, teeth and skin. Some people get diabetes when their bodies fail to produce insulin (type 1 diabetes). Others produce insulin but lose sensitivity to it (type 2 diabetes), often from years of carrying excess weight and not getting enough exercise.
“Type 2 often develops because people did all the things they were told not to do,” says Robert Linde, an acupuncturist and registered herbalist in St. Petersburg, Florida. Apparently a lot of people have been doing a lot of the wrong things, because the disease has reached near-epidemic proportions: 18 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The Herbal Medicine Cabinet
Herbs can’t cure diabetes, but a number of them may provide alternative therapy when used in conjunction with diet, exercise and medication. Among them:
Italian scientists found that using bilberry helps cause a drop in blood glucose levels. They also found that bilberry lowered blood triglyceride levels, a heart disease risk factor.
Studies suggest that cinnamon may boost insulin function while lowering cholesterol. Taking as little as a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon twice a day can stimulate insulin-like activity while lowering triglycerides, cholesterol and glucose levels by 10 to 30 percent.1
The blood sugar-lowering action of Gymnema leaves was first documented in the 1920’s. Gymnema has been used in India for the treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes for over 2,000 years. Herbs cannot be used in place of insulin to control blood sugar.
Linde stresses that just as people with diabetes must regularly monitor their blood glucose, they must commit to taking herbal supplements on a daily basis in order to see any benefits. And the old mantra – lose weight, eat a balanced diet that limits sugars and carbs, and exercise – is still the first line of defense.
Consult your physician or pharmacist for guidance or questions in using herbal supplements to help manage your diabetes.