Gymnema Sylvestre and Diabetes

Gymnema Sylvestre and DiabetesGymnema sylvestre is a type of climbing shrub that is woody in nature and is found primarily in Africa.  It is the leaves of this shrub that are used to make medicine designed to counteract the effects of diabetes.  This is a type of herbal supplement commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, popular in India, where it has been used for centuries.  The Hindi name for Gymnema sylvestre is gurmar, which stands for “destroyer of sugar”.

In today’s time, Gymnema sylvestre is used in the management of metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, cough, and weight loss.  In Africa, it is used to treat malaria and as an antidote for snake bites.  Some Ayurvedic doctors use Gymnema sylvestre as a laxative, a diuretic, an appetite suppressant, and as a stimulant for the digestive tract.

Needless to say, Gymnema sylvestre is not in common use for the treatment of diabetes in Western medical circles.  Much of what we know about the leaves and the extracts made from the leaves of the shrub can be found in research studies that have been done on both animals with diabetes and, in some cases, humans with diabetes.

No one knows the whole function of Gymnema sylvestre in the management of diabetes but, according to the latest research, it is believed to contain chemicals that decrease the amount of glucose that is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines.  It is also believed to stimulate the secretion of insulin in the pancreas by regenerating the Islets of Langerhans cells, which are the cells in the pancreas that make insulin for the body.

Research on Gymnema sylvestre

There have been several research studies on the use of Gymnema sylvestre in the management of high blood sugar and diabetes in humans and rats.  The outcome of these studies is demonstrated here:

  • One study looked at the effectiveness of GS4, which is an extract from the Gymnema sylvestre leaves, in the management of hyperglycemia. The study was a small one, looking at only 22 patients with type 2 diabetes who were also taking regular oral medications to control their diabetes.  GS4 was given at 400 milligrams per day to each of the study’s participants for 18 to 20 months.  Each participant was on both the supplement and their conventional Western medical treatment for diabetes.  During the supplementation of GS4 in these participants, it was discovered that the fasting blood glucose levels, the hemoglobin A1c levels, and the glycosylated plasma protein levels all decreased after Gymnema sylvestre was added to their diabetic regimen.  The supplement was so successful that 5 of the participants of the study were able to stop taking their conventional drug treatment for diabetes and were able to maintain normal levels of glucose and normal hemoglobin A1c levels even after their conventional treatments were discontinued. The researchers determined that the beta cells of the pancreas may have been repaired or regenerated in those participants who took GS4 as a supplement for their diabetes mellitus.  The insulin levels were found to increase in those patients who took the GS4 supplement.
  • A study was performed on the water soluble extracts from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre, which were labeled GS3 and GS4. The extracts were tested on rats treated with streptozotocin who subsequently developed diabetes.  The researchers looked for the effect of the extracts on the blood sugar levels and the pancreatic tissues in rats who took the supplements as part of their daily diet. In the rats, who all had diabetes from streptozotocin, had abnormal blood glucose levels before the study and had fasting blood sugar levels return to normal after being given 60 days of GS3 and after being given 20 days of GS4 by mouth.  Blood from the rats was collected to check the levels of insulin in the blood as well as to perform an oral glucose tolerance test on the rats.  In the diabetic rats, both GS3 and GS4 were found to increase the number of islet cells and beta cells in the rats.  These are the cells that make insulin for the body.  The conclusion of the researchers was that Gymnema sylvestre was able to cause normalization of blood glucose levels because the extract increased the pancreatic beta cell production so that more insulin was available in these diabetic rats.
  • Gymnema sylvestre and diabetesIn another study, GS4, which is a water soluble extract from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre, was given to 27 participants who had insulin-dependent diabetes medication and who were also on insulin treatments for their diabetes. Each participant took 400 milligrams per day of the extract along with their insulin.  After taking the GS4 extract, the participants needed less insulin to control their diabetes and had reductions in both the fasting blood sugar and the glycosylated hemoglobin levels (hemoglobin A1c).  In addition, those participants who had increased blood cholesterol levels had a normalization of their levels after taking the Gymnema sylvestre extract.  Those patients were followed for 10-12 months after being given the extract and it was felt that the reason behind the normalization of blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c levels was due to a regeneration of the beta cells in the pancreas of participants with type 1 diabetes mellitus.
  • In another study, 22 people who were taking medications for their type 2 diabetes also took GS4, which is an extract from the leaves of the Gymnema sylvestre leaves. Each participant took 400 milligrams of the extract per day.  At the end of the study, those who took the supplement had significant decreases in the fasting blood sugar level, the hemoglobin A1c level, and the glycosylated plasma protein levels. The study lasted for about 18 months and it was felt again that the reduction in blood sugar levels was directly related to regeneration of beta cells in the pancreas of type 2 diabetic patients.

In short, it can be said that Gymnema sylvestre extracts has the possibility to normalize blood sugar levels and decrease the hemoglobin A1c levels by one of two mechanisms.  Either the extracts caused a reduction in the amount of glucose absorbed by the intestinal tract or it helped to regenerate the beta cells in the pancreas of both type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics.

This has implications for the modern medical treatment for diabetes mellitus.  If the glucose reduction and hemoglobin A1c levels decrease in larger studies of diabetic patients, it is possible that more doctors in the Western world will recommend that their diabetic patients take extracts of Gymnema sylvestre as part of their diabetic health care along with or instead of taking conventional medical treatments for their disease.

References:

Image credit: wikipedia

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