For months now, I've been receiving a lot of emails pushing various herbal remedies for diabetes. I guess it's finally time to explore them a little, although it scares me to open this can of worms: nothing invites comment spam like mentioning dietary supplements.
Well, I'm taking the plunge anyway, but don't be surprised if your comment peddling some herbal product is promptly removed.
So, for those of you just genuinely curious, as I am, I have discovered the following interesting bits of information about some herbal substances that seem to have a legitimate effect on diabetes and/or your overall health.
(NOTE: I've compiled this information from various websites and from the research of D-author Gretchen Becker. A great comprehensive overview is also available from Diabetes Self-Management magazine.)
* Cinnamon -- well-documented studies show that cinnamon helps lower BG levels and "normalize" lipids in Type 2 diabetics. Experts have even gone so far as to call cinnamon (and its water-soluble extract) "a natural version of insulin" because the effects were so profound. Apparently this common and tasty spice is truly helpful. (Who knew? Too bad I'm not a cinammon fan.)
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* Ginseng -- one of the most popular supplements in the US, sold in tablet form and in herbal teas, primarily as an energy booster. It has been reported to lower BG levels, but the many varieties have different effects, therefore you may end up raising your BG, sources say.
* Bilberry -- (not blueberry) leaves have also been reported to help with BG control, consumed in an anti-diabetic tea. The berries are a rich source of antioxidants (compounds that may decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases) and may improve circulation, thus have been suggested as a treatment for diabetic retinopathy. But use in small quantities, please, as too much bilberry can be toxic.
* Gymnema Sylvestre -- an Indian herb used in Ayurveda, the ancient Hindi medicine system of India. Injesting the leaves causes gradual hypoglycemic actions, and also helps lower serum cholesterol and triglycerides. A 2001 study by CDE's in Nebraska confirmed that this herb improves glycemic control in Type 2 patients, significantly reducing postprandial BG and decreasing A1c results (!)
* Gingko Biloba -- used primarily to increase circulation. But since it is a blood thinner, should be used with caution, especially if you're already taking any other type of blood-thinning substance.
* Evening Primrose Oil -- studies indicate that the GLA (gammalinolenic acid) in evening primrose oil can help prevent -- and potentially reverse -- the nerve damage (neuropathy) commonly caused by diabetes. General recommended dose: 1,000 mg evening primrose oil three times a day.
* Saw Palmetto -- a spikey-looking bush with berries, recommended for everything from enlarged prostate problems to breast enlargement. It's use in "peripheral" diabetes treatment is apparently for treating infections of the gastro-urinary tract, and also increasing the strength and function of the bladder.
The thing to keep in mind is that most doctors and medical authorities are luke-warm at best on the value of taking much of this stuff, especially the drugstore-marketed "solutions" -- reminding us that many substances are ineffective or potentially even harmful. After years of medical school and in-the-trenches experience with patients, I think they might have a point.
For example, a prominent endocrinologist whom I interviewed recently had this to say when I asked her about nutritional supplements (the packaged kind), including beta complex, omega complex, and creatine:
"Most of them are just hype... However, if you came to me on one of these supplements, and you believe in it, I'd say OK. I wouldn't protest unless it's hurting you in some way — damaging your liver or putting an extra strain on your kidneys."
Right. It's just that I for one wouldn't want to find out the hard way, after the damage is done. Any thoughts here? I'm sure you all have many :)