A member of the milkweed family, Gymnema sylvestre is native to the tropical regions of India. Nicknamed the "sugar destroyer" because the leaves effectively block sweet tastes in the mouth when chewed, the herb is often promoted as an appetite suppressant and weight-loss agent. This claim has no evidence to support it, however. In fact, the capsules sold for this purpose don't even alter the taste in a person's mouth--the leaves need to be chewed directly for this purpose.
Interestingly, generations of people in India with diabetes have successfully chewed the leaves to help control blood sugar. Several small, placebo-controlled trials indicate that gymnema extracts may indeed lower blood sugar levels. In those with type 1 diabetes, gymnema seems to enhance the action of insulin. In one study, 27 people with type 1 diabetes who took gymnema leaf extracts for several months required less insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Animal studies also support this use; they indicate that gymnema can double the amount of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and return blood sugar levels to normal as a result.
In the case of the far more prevalent type 2 diabetes--also known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes--research
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine uses gymnema to treat a variety of other disorders as well, including digestion problems, cough, constipation, and malaria. Animal studies indicate a possible role for gymnema in lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. More research on this intriguing connection is needed.
Gymnema may alter the dosage needed for other drugs commonly used to treat diabetes, including glipizide, metformin, and insulin.
Other useful herb information: Hydrangea | Valerian | Artemisia | Tribulus | Dioscorea | Stevia | Allium
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