A huge range of herbs are currently being studied for their use in controlling symptoms of diabetes or helping with related conditions. Patient QI has looked at many of the most recent studies to produce this list of the most up-to-date research on the subject, however, there are other herbs accredited with being beneficial that you may also wish to look at including bitter melon, fenugreek, aloe vera, garlic, nettle, sweet potato, holy basil, gymnema sylvestre and coccinia indica.
Also known as St Mary’s Thistle and Silybum, this plant is usually used to treat liver conditions and contains a very powerful antioxidant known as silymarin. Recent medical studies have shown that its use can also decrease blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol and insulin resistance in patients suffering from Type 2 Diabetes with very few side effects.
The College of Pharmacy in India undertook a study where it compared two groups of Type 2 Diabetics. One group was given insulin and silymarin, the other had insulin and a combination of amino acids (L-ornithine and L-aspartate). At the conclusion of the trial the patients treated with the combination of insulin and silymarin experienced significantly greater benefits in reduced blood glucose levels and reduced bilirubin levels compared to the amino acid group.
The pads of the prickly pear have long been the favorite herbal remedy for diabetic Mexicans and Native Americans. The contents of the pads are high in fiber and pectin which can lower blood glucose by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestines. These properties have led to the plant being used for Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity; it is also reported for fight viral infections. Research at the University of Arizona demonstrated that the plant’s pectin lowered LDL cholesterol, and proven hypoglycemic effects were demonstrated in trials on the liquefied plant extract. The pads also contain high quantities of magnesium, iron, calcium and potassium.
Warning: In 2010 there was a documented case of adverse drug reaction when used with a combination of glipizide and metformin. The patient in this case had denied he was taking any additional remedies. Always discuss your complete treatment plan with your doctor.
Bael Fruit / Bengal Quince / Aegle Marmelos
This plant has traditionally been used to treat a range of conditions, including diabetes, in traditional Indian medicine. In a 2013 study scientists evaluated the antidiabetic, antihyperlipidemic and antioxidant effect of umbelliferone beta-D-galactopyranoside (UFG) which is obtained from the plant’s bark. Improvement in fasting blood glucose and improved plasma insulin levels was found as compared to the diabetic control group. Further investigations are planned.
Red Ginseng helps to normalize blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. At the University of Surrey in a placebo controlled study of 30 people who had the condition and consumed a capsule containing ground North-American ginseng three times a day for 12 weeks, hemoglobin A1c dropped into the normal range when participants took ginseng capsules but not when they were on the placebo. There were no adverse effects recorded.
In a second study at the University of Toronto, Korean red ginseng was found to improve insulin sensitivity. The major problem for patients is to acquire pure ginseng of the quality used in the studies as many preparations sold in health stores are greatly inferior.
Ginseng berries are also now being studied for their ability to help treat diabetes and obesity. The berries contain considerable amounts of Ginsenoside Re, a substance which is less present in the herb’s roots.
Curcuma longa (Cl), Tinospora cordifolia (Tc) and Phyllanthus emblica (Pe)
These three Indian medicinal plants have long been credited with an insulin sensitizing effect. In 2013 the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at Mumbai Central conducted a fibroblast cell study on the plants with interesting results which are prompting further studies. Both Pe and Tc stimulated glucose uptake in a way comparable to insulin and greater than pioglitazone. Cl also stimulated glucose uptake but its effect was less than insulin. When Pe and Tc were combined with insulin there appeared to be an adverse plant-drug reaction. This did not occur with Curcuma longa where the two worked better together than in isolation.
Yamabushitake mushrooms / Hericium erinaceous
This commonly used medicine food from China was investigated in 2013 at the China Medical University in Shenyang. Extract from the mushrooms was shown to decrease serum glucose levels and give a significant rise in serum insulin levels. Further studies are planned.
These small black seeds were treasured by Aztec warriors for their medicinal properties. They are packed with essential things required by Type 2 Diabetics, including monounsaturated fats including omega-3 and omega-6 and Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), magnesium, zinc and fiber. A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition stated that in tests on diabetic rats, chia normalized insulin resistance and improved cholesterol levels. Results published in a 2007 edition of Diabetes Care journal also concluded chia seeds could aid the management of certain risk factors from Type 2 Diabetes.