Separating fact and fiction when it comes to herbs for diabetes health is always tricky at best. Some people swear that herbs such as bitter melon, ginseng, fenugreek, cinnamon, bilberry, gymnema sylvestre and others are the best herbs for diabetes treatment. Others, particularly American scientists, are skeptical at best, hostile at worst.
Who’s right? Like all great controversies, the herbs for diabetes controversy depends on who you ask and what you believe. Personally, I think there is so much we don’t know about herbs and other natural treatments, it is difficult to rule them out, just because we haven’t studied them.
Moreover, the way the pharmaceutical industry is set up in the United States, there is very little incentive to study natural treatment. Anyway, now that I have gotten down off of my soap box, let’s take a look at what we do know.
BITTER MELON(AKA-AMPALAYA-MOMORDICA CHARANTIA LINN,BITTER GOURD)
Bitter Melon has risen to the front line of herb controversies. American studies have not found any evidence that bitter melon aids in controlling blood glucose levels. This, however, is no the entire picture.
A 10 year study conducted by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development found bitter melon to be extremely effective in controlling blood glucose levels. In fact, they even went as far as to classify bitter melon as a medicine. Meaning it was as effective in controlling glucose levels as some prescription medicines. Specifically, 100 milligrams per kilo (per day) is as effective as 2.5 milligrams of Glibenclamide, sold as Diabeta, Glynase and Micronase in the United States.
This result seems incredible given the lack of attention bitter melon and diabetes receives in the United States. Nonetheless, in at least this one corner of the world the herb is being used, and is supported, as a medicine. Is this another diabetes and herbs mystery or simply a lack of attention by western researchers?
This herb actually does have scientific support in the United States. At least two small human studies show that the herb helped reduce A1c levels, although, these findings are nothing new. The herb has been used for several thousand years as a treatment for diabetes. It is found naturally in tropical forests in India. The anti-diabetic healing properties of gymnema comes from its leaf extract.
FENUGREEK AND DIABETES
Fenugreek has only been found to reduce fasting blood glucose levels in one of three clinical trials (.333 average). While this is a pretty good hitting average if you are a Major League Baseball player, it does not overly impress scientists.
The one successful trial was conducted by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1990. The study actually reported a 54% reduction of urinary glucose levels within 24 hours. Curiously, these results do not seem to have been replicated in two follow up studies.
Nonetheless, Fenugreek seed extracts have been shown to have other positive qualities, such as lowering serum total cholesterol and triglycerides. Also, fenugreek is widely used a s a spice in cooking.
Bilberry are essentially wild blueberries that most famously grow in Europe (although they can be found in other locations as well). The healing properties of bilberries most center on their ability to help a person’s eye sight. Human studies are few and far between, but preliminary non-human studies suggest the berry is good for treating macular degeneration (and preventing other eye diseases), cancer and heart disease.
Obviously, preventing or treating these diabetes complications is where the bilberry has become popular with diabetics.
Garlic has long been viewed as a healthy way to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. A number of studies show that garlic may reduce hardening of the arteries, lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. All of these attributes are positive for diabetes patients who also may have an increase in cardiovascular disease risk.
Additionally, garlic has been found to possibly lower glucose levels. However, the link between garlic and lower glucose levels is far from absolute. Most people do not have any adverse health reactions from taking garlic, but it may interact poorly with certain HIV medications. Garlic also can have the effect of thinning your blood, so be careful if you are going into an operation soon. There are no prescribed ideal amount of garlic in supplemental form.
OTHER RELATED HERBS FOR DIABETES TREATMENTS
There are several other diabetes and herbs used for treatments that have received a tremendous amount of research and/or discussion. We have actually covered them at length in other articles. These include the healing properties of Cinnamon and Green Tea.
For a complete list of diabetes and herbs and other natural treatments take a look at our Nutritional Supplements page.
Ampalaya Tablets Out Soon for Diabetics, GMAnews.tv, March 27, 2007.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, , Nahas R, Moher M, Can Fam Physician, 2009 June; 55(6): 591-6.
By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed May 2012.