An estimated 21 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes, so it’s not too surprising that the demand for alternative treatments is surging. One herbal supplement that’s gaining popularity among people with diabetes is gymnema extract, or GS4.
The gymnema plant is a large climbing branch that grows in the dry forests of India. It was first used as a treatment for diabetes 2,000 years ago in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda), but scientific study on its effects is still fairly recent.
How Does It Work?
Gymnema is thought to do a couple of things: block the taste of sweetness and help regulate blood sugar by blocking the absorption of sugar in the intestines and stimulating insulin release from the pancreas.
When you put the plant on your tongue, it stops you from tasting sugar. Taken as a supplement, it’s purported to help people with diabetes control blood sugar.
There is very little clinical evidence to support the use of gymnema for diabetes. Only a few studies exist and most of them involve animals. The studies that involve humans are also not of sufficiently high quality to prove that gymnema is effective in helping control blood sugar. One small human study found that daily GS4 doses of 400 milligrams (mg) reduce the amount of insulin needed by people with diabetes on insulin therapy. Some researchers believe GS4 may boost the body’s ability to produce insulin on its own by regenerating beta cells.
Gymnema supplements are also used to help with weight loss and lower cholesterol. However, there is only limited scientific evidence to back these claims. Several few animal studies have found that it can reduce cholesterol. One study on people with diabetes found that GS4 can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Gymnema as an ingredient in weight-loss supplements has been shown to lower body weight, but it’s unclear whether one ingredient is more effective than the combination.
GS4 comes in pill form. Typical doses that have been studied are between 200 mg and 600 mg daily. These doses are considered safe, but more research is needed. Because supplements haven’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should speak to your doctor first. This is especially true if you’re on insulin or other medications to control blood sugar. If the gymnema is effective in lowering your blood sugar, your insulin or medication dosage may need to be adjusted. Using gymnema without doctor supervision could put you at risk of hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar).
Medical treatment for diabetes is a combination of lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, as well as keeping track of your blood sugar levels, and taking medication or insulin. Gymnema is not a substitute for these treatments, but it could potentially be added to your treatment plan if your doctor approves.
While evidence on gymnema’s effectiveness is still very limited, it’s possible the supplement may be helpful for some people in combination with traditional treatment.