Many people with Type 2 diabetes use plants, or plant parts, for the self-management of their medical problems. This is what most people refer to as herbal medicine, botanical medicine, or phytomedicine. In the United States more than one-third of people with diabetes use herbal or traditional and alternative medicine alone, or in combination with their prescribed anti-diabetic medication, according to the Johns Hopkins Point-of-Care Information Technology Center (Johns Hopkins POC-IT Center).
There are many types of herbal preparations used for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. In fact, in almost every culture there is one herbal medicine intended for the management of increased blood sugar levels. However, there are only a few tested and evaluated systematically and scientifically for this purpose.
Here is a list of the most commonly used herbal and medicinal plants for the management of Type 2 diabetes:
Ginseng: Ginseng is one of the most popular medicinal herbs globally. There are two major types of this herb:
Asian ginseng, the Panax ginseng
American ginseng, the Panax quinquefolius.
The active compounds in the ginseng herbs that makes them useful are the ginsenosides. According to one particular study, information from the Johns Hopkins POC-IT Center states ginsenosides can potentially improve insulin resistance. Ginseng can be safely used at a dosage of 1 to 3 grams per day. However, the adverse effects of using this herbal medicine include:
nervousness and palpitations, and
Ginseng is also known to interact with the action of warfarin, an anticoagulant (more commonly referred to as a blood thinner). Ginseng unfortunately causes warfarin to be less effective.
Cinnamon: There is new evidence cinnamon can be helpful in regulating blood sugar. Cinnamon is not just another spice that can be used for cooking and baking. According to Johns Hopkins POC-IT Center, cinnamon can increase the effectiveness of insulin therefore improve your blood sugar level. Human trials indicate that taking between 1/4 and one teaspoon of cinnamon every day helps control blood sugar levels. However, various results from other studies contradict these findings. The safety profile of cinnamon is clean and there are no drug interactions noted with the use of cinnamon.
Bitter melon: Different cultures and traditions used bitter melon (Momordica charantia) for the management of diabetes. Many people believe it can decrease insulin resistance… bitter melon is composed of several compounds with confirmed blood sugar lowering properties. It must be pointed out though, clinical trials regarding this herb show contradicting results. Although taking as little as 2 ounces of the juice has shown good results in clinical trials, adverse effects with the use of bitter melon include:
gastrointestinal symptoms, and
favism, or bursting of red blood cells,
with the ingestion of seeds in certain G6PD deficient diabetics.
Fenugreek: The herb fenugreek is one of the most impressive natural substances helpful for people with diabetes. Fenugreek is a traditional spice often used in curry in Asia and the Mediterranean countries. Fenugreek is believed to contain 4-hydroxyisoleucine, a chemical that can enhance insulin production and secretion by the pancreas. Some clinical studies claim its effectiveness in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. It lowers blood sugar much the same way that drugs in the class of sulfonylureas (such as glyburide) do. Adverse reactions related to fenugreek use include:
However, no herb to drug interaction has been observed.
Fenugreek helps you lose weight because the seeds of fenugreek are rich in dietary fiber, so it delays stomach emptying and after-eating sugar spikes. As the seeds are bitter, taking supplements may be the better choice. As lowered blood sugar is an expected effect of using fenugreek, if you combine it with medications and do not monitor yourself properly, you could find yourself with very low blood sugar. Make sure you see your doctor regularly to supervise your regimen.
Beverleigh Piepers RN… the Diabetes Detective.