Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre ) is a climbing plant that grows in the tropical forests of central and southern India. The woody gymnema plant also grows in parts of Africa. Leaves of this long, slender plant have been used for more than 2,000 years in India to treat diabetes. Gymnema is also known as gurmar, gurmabooti, periploca of the woods, and meshasringi (ram's horn).
In the past, powdered gymnema root was used to treat snake bites, constipation , stomach complaints, water retention, and liver disease. However, the Hindu word gurmar best describes the primary use of gymnema. Gurmar means sugar destroyer, and it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat adult-onset diabetes, a condition once described as "honey urine."
Gymnema and diabetes
Diabetes is a consequence of abnormalities in the blood levels of insulin, the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy. Adult-onset diabetes is caused by the body's inability to adequately process insulin. Today it is known as Type II diabetes, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), and stable diabetes.
Type I diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, results from an insulin shortage. Type I diabetes is also called insulindependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).
Thousands of years ago, Type II diabetes was treated with gymnema. The plant's sugar-destroying property was released when a person chewed on one or two leaves. Gymnema was said to paralyze a person's tongue to the taste of sugar and bitter tastes. That taste-blocking reaction lasted for several hours. During that time, leaves supposedly provided a slight block to the taste for salty foods, while the taste for acidic foods was not affected.
By blocking the taste buds from tasting sugar, gymnema blocked sugar in the digestive system, resulting in a decrease in blood sugar, also known as a hypoglycemic effect. This medicinal action has been studied since the late 1930s.
Gymnema has also been used in folk medicine as a remedy for allergies , urinary tract inflections, anemia , hyperactivity, digestion, cholesterol , and weight control. Most of those treatments did not prove to be effective. Gymnema lowers cholesterol slightly, but not enough to be regarded as a significant remedy.
Contemporary uses of gymnema
Currently, gymnema is known primarily for its sugar-blocking properties. It is used to treat high blood sugar in diabetics and has been promoted as a weight loss remedy. In India, gymnema has been used by both Type I and Type II diabetics, but is used mainly to treat Type II diabetics.
Some clinical trials in India indicated that gymnema could help with both types of diabetes. During the 1990s, Type II diabetics in India were studied, and gymnema proved successful for lowering blood sugar with continuous use for 18 to 24 months. In another study, people diagnosed as juvenile diabetics took gymnema along with insulin. In some cases, people were able to reduce their dosages of insulin.
In mid-2002, a U.S. clinical trial was reported to further support gymnema's use in managing Type I diabetes. Of those participating in the trial, about 16% were able to decrease usage of their prescription medication usage. The same research group also found gymnema beneficial for non-insulin dependent diabetics. While those results appeared promising, medical professionals caution that more research is still needed. That research would include double-blind studies and involve more people.
A weight-loss remedy?
Although gymnema won't make sugary foods taste bad, the sugar destroyer is said to curb the desire for sweets. Due to this sugar-blocking property, gymnema is marketed as a weight-loss remedy. People could take gymnema to help fight the desire for sweet treats. As a weight-loss remedy, gymnena has not been studied extensively, and some in the medical community were dubious about its effectiveness, an opinion held as of June 2000. Instead, the sugar destroyer is acknowledged as a potential treatment for diabetes.
Gymnema is available commercially as a water-soluble extract that is standardized to contain 24% gymnemic acid. The usual dosage of is 400–600 mg of gymnema per day. However, the strengths of commercial products can vary. A person taking gymnema should follow the directions on the package.
When taken in capsule form, the dosage of gymnema is one 100-mg capsule taken three to four times daily.
Gymnema is also available in powdered form. The recommended dosage for powdered gymnema leaves is 0.5–1 tsp (2–4 g) per day. An herbal tea can be prepared by pouring 1 cup (240 ml) of boiling water over the powdered leaves. The mixture is covered and steeped for 10–15 minutes. The tea is strained before it is consumed.
The United States Food and Drug Administration does not regulate gymnema and other herbal remedies. That means that the remedies have not proven to be effective and that ingredients are not standardized.
In addition, the safety of gymnema has not been established for use by children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and people with severe kidney and liver diseases.
Before beginning any herbal treatment, people should consult a physician or health practitioner. Consulting a medical professional is particularly important before taking gymnema because the remedy could potentially lower blood sugar too much, resulting in a hypoglycemic reaction.
It is especially important for diabetics to consult with a doctor. Gymnema should not be regarded as a substitute for other medications. If people diagnosed with Type I or Type II diabetes are taking insulin to control their blood sugar, they cannot replace the insulin with gymnema.
In addition, diabetes can go undetected for some time. It may not be diagnosed until a person goes to a doctor after experiencing symptoms such as frequent urination, dizziness , and fatigue . Diabetes must be treated medically since complications from untreated diabetes can include kidney failure, heart disease , blindness, and loss of limbs.
As of June 2000, gymnema was believed to be free of side effects when taken at the recommended dosages. However, more research could reveal side effects.
Gymnema could interact with medications taken to reduce blood sugar levels. The herbal remedy could cause the drugs to work better, resulting in hypoglycemia .
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Teresa G. Odle