Traditional Herbs Help Men with Diabetes
February 2, 2006—A combination of three powdered herbs taken raw or cooked into biscuits can lower blood sugar in men with diabetes, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food (2005;8:545–9).
Diabetes is a metabolic disease characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar. In type 2 diabetes, also called adult onset diabetes, cells do not respond properly to insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar. It is believed to be caused in part by over-consumption of refined sugar. About 150 million people worldwide—more than 17 million of them in the United States—have diabetes. Effective treatment should include lifestyle changes: a high-fiber, low-simple-carbohydrate diet and regular exercise are necessary to restore a normal response to insulin and to keep blood-sugar levels from rising too high. Hypoglycemic (blood-sugar-lowering) medications are frequently recommended for people with more advanced disease and those who cannot adhere to lifestyle changes. Left untreated, chronically elevated levels of blood sugar damage blood vessels and cause problems in all major organ systems. The risk of heart disease, for example, is two to seven times higher in people with diabetes than in people without diabetes.
A number of medicinal herbs have been used to treat diabetes. Bittergourd, also called bitter melon (Momordica charantia), is a popular food in Asian countries. Its fruit has been studied for its antidiabetic effects. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graceum) has long been used to treat digestive and gastrointestinal problems. In recent years, it has been used for its hypoglycemic effects. Jambu (Eugenia jambolana or Syzygium cuminii) is an important herb in traditional Indian medicine for treating diabetes.
In the current study, 60 men with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive either raw or cooked preparations of a powdered mix of three herbs: the dried fruit of bittergourd, fenugreek seeds, and jambu seeds. The raw herbs were put into 500 mg capsules and were taken at 2 capsules (1 gram) per day for 45 days and 4 capsules (2 grams) per day for the next 45 days. People assigned to receive cooked herbs were given salty biscuits with 500 mg of powdered herbs baked into each. They ate two biscuits (providing 1 gram of herbs) per day for 45 days and four biscuits (providing 2 grams of herbs) per day for the next 45 days. Sugar levels in fasting and two-hour after-meal (postprandial) blood and urine samples were measured at the beginning of the study, after the first 45-day phase, and after the second 45-day phase.
Fasting and postprandial blood-sugar levels decreased significantly in both groups after 45 days of treatment with 1 gram of herbs; these levels again dropped significantly after 45 days of taking 2 grams of herbs. Sugar was found in 40% of the fasting urine samples and 82% of the postprandial urine samples at the beginning of the study. At the end of the study, none of the men had sugar in their fasting urine samples, and only 13% of those in the cooked herb group had sugar in their postprandial urine samples. Furthermore, many of the men were able to reduce or stop their hypoglycemic medications.
The results of this preliminary study suggest that a combination of bittergourd, fenugreek, and jambu can improve blood-sugar control in men with type 2 diabetes. Controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings and to identify the safest and most effective way to use the herbs.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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