Diabetes is a metabolic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels due to a lack of or inadequate supply of insulin, an inability of the body to use insulin correctly, or both. According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans (or 9.3 percent of the population) had diabetes in 2012.
Gymnema is a supplement that has been used as a complementary treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While it isn’t a replacement for insulin, it may aid in blood sugar control.
What is gymnema?
Gymnema is a woody climbing shrub that comes from the forests of India and Africa. It’s been used medicinally in ayurveda (an ancient Indian medicinal practice) for over 2,000 years. Chewing on the leaves of this plant can temporarily interfere with the ability to taste sweetness. It’s generally considered safe for adults to take.
Gymnema has been used to:
- lower blood sugar
- reduce the amount of sugar absorbed by the intestines
- lower LDL cholesterol
- stimulate insulin release in the pancreas
It is also sometimes used to treat stomach problems, constipation, liver disease, and water retention.
Gymnema is most often consumed in Western medicine in the form of pills or tablets, making dosage easier to control and monitor. It can also come in the form of leaf powder or extract.
There is not enough evidence to definitively prove gymnema’s effectiveness for blood sugar balancing and diabetes. However, multiple studies have shown potential.
A 2001 study found that 65 people with high blood sugar who took gymnema leaf extract for 90 days all had lower levels. Gymnema also appeared to increase glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes. The study authors concluded that gymnema could help prevent diabetic complications in the long term.
Gymnema may be effective due to its ability to increase insulin secretion, according to a review in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. This, in turn, helps lower blood sugar levels.
The biggest pro to trying gymnema as a complement to diabetes treatment is that it’s generally considered to be safe (under doctor supervision). There are few negative side effects or drug interactions.
While it’s still being researched, there is preliminary evidence that gymnema helps people with diabetes manage their blood sugar.
Just as there are pros, there are some risks with gymnema.
Gymnema may have an additive effect when taken in combination with diabetic, cholesterol-lowering, and weight loss agents. Because of this, you should proceed carefully and ask your doctor specifically about possible reactions.
Gymnema can’t be used by certain individuals, including children and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. It may also interfere with blood sugar medication that you’re already taking.
Warnings and interactions
As of now, there are no significant drug interactions known to interfere with gymnema. It may change the effectiveness of other medications that lower blood sugar, but there is no solid evidence of this yet. It’s crucial to let your doctor know before you begin taking this or any supplement.
Gymnema is not a substitute for diabetes medication. While lowering high blood sugar is generally a positive thing in people with diabetes, lowering it too much can be extremely dangerous. If you’re going to take gymnema to treat diabetes, do so under your doctor’s supervision. Check your blood sugar levels more often until you know how it affects your body. Also check every time you increase the dosage.
Women who are breast-feeding, pregnant, or planning to become pregnant shouldn’t take gymnema. You should also stop taking gymnema at least two weeks before a surgical procedure to avoid any negative reactions.
Diabetes treatment typically focuses on two goals: controlling blood glucose levels and preventing complications. Treatment plans will often include medications and lifestyle changes.
Most people with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 diabetes will need to take insulin via injections or an insulin pump. Other medications may be used to control blood sugar or complications caused by diabetes as well.
Your doctor may recommend that you see a dietitian, who will help you create a healthy meal plan. This meal plan will help you to manage your carbohydrate intake, as well as other key nutrients.
Physical activity is also recommended. It can improve overall health and reduce the risk of heart disease, which is a common diabetes complication.
When to see your doctor
Make an appointment to see your doctor before you start taking gymnema. They’ll help you decide if it’s safe for you to take, and what dose you should start with. Your doctor might have you test more frequently or adjust the dosage of your other medications to compensate for gymnema’s effects.