Diabetes is one of the oldest known diseases. An Egyptian manuscript mentions the phrase “the passing of too much urine” to describe the prevalence of the disease then, while in India, the great physician Sushruta, identified the disease and classified it as Medhumeha. The ancient Indians tested for diabetes by observing whether ants were attracted to a person’s urine, and called the ailment “sweet urine disease”.
Of the estimated 346 million people worldwide that suffer from Diabetes, around 51 million are in India alone! According to a WHO report, an estimated 3.4 million people died from consequences of high blood sugar in 2004.
Many studies have shown how the use of certain plants has helped in lowering blood sugar levels and to some extent even curtailing it completely. This week we list down a few common and easily available plants that have proved to be very efficient in curbing this disease.
There are three main types of diabetes mellitus (DM).
- Type 1 DM results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, and currently requires the person to inject insulin or wear an insulin pump. This form was previously referred to as “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (IDDM) or “juvenile diabetes”.
- Type 2 DM results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. This form was previously referred to as non insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or “adult-onset diabetes”.
- The third main form, gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women without a previous diagnosis of diabetes develop a high blood glucose level. It may precede development of type 2 DM.
Other forms of diabetes mellitus include congenital diabetes, which is due to geneticdefects of insulin secretion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid diabetes induced by high doses of glucocorticoids, and several forms of monogenic diabetes.
Untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Acute complications include diabetic ketoacidosis and nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications includecardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, and diabetic retinopathy (retinal damage). Adequate treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight.
All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Insulin and some oral medications can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugars), which can be dangerous if severe. Both types 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM;gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery.
Diabetes is of two kinds: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which affects the pancreas. As a result of this, the pancreas either produce no insulin or too little of it. Type 2 diabetes is different. In this, the body builds up resistance towards insulin and therefore requires greater amount of insulin, every time.
Herbs that have been used in medicine from times immemorial have shown great potential in anti-diabetic activity. Different herbs achieve this in different ways. Some boost the insulin production. Some others boost the utilization of insulin. There are a few herbs which prevent the breakdown of starches into sugars while still others increase the sensitivity of the body towards insulin. Through all these means, the herbs effectively reduce diabetes and become useful in its treatment.
The best thing about these herbs are that they are the most natural form of ingesting chemicals that are useful in treating diabetes. However, care and advice must be sought before making use of a combination of the below listed herbs.
Fenugreek or Methi
Fenugreek is used both as a herb (the leaves) and as a spice (the seed). The leaves and sprouts are also eaten as vegetables. The plant is cultivated worldwide as a semi-arid crop and is a common ingredient in many curries.
Fenugreek lowers resistance to insulin and control blood glucose levels by increasing the number of insulin receptors in red blood cells. This will increase glucose utilization in peripheral tissues, thereby reducing the levels of glucose in the blood. However Fenugreek should not be used by pregnant or lactating women.
Sprinkle some seeds in the soil and cover them with soil till they are around a centimetre deep. You will notice the first sprouts in around a week – 10 days and the plant will be ready to use in a month’s time.
The oil extracted from its seeds is a potent insulin stimulant, a powerful anti-oxidant and a modulator of the immune system. Dr. K.Hamden has also discovered that fenugreek oil improved kidney and pancreatic damage in animals. Thus, fenugreek helps in lowering the blood sugar levels in diabetics. The herb can be ingested by drying and grinding then seeds into powder which is then taken in as a paste. However, fenugreek is also known the cause breathing difficulties, facial numbness, swellings, gas and dizziness.
Aloe vera is often regarded as a ‘healing herb’. Dried aloe vera sap and gel (inner leaf) is used traditionally to treat diabetes because it is believed to help reduce levels of fasting blood glucose. Aloe vera is a succulent, and as such, stores a large quantity of water within its leaves and root system. During the winter months, the plant will become somewhat dormant, and require very little moisture. During this period watering should be minimal. Allow the soil to become completely dry before giving the plant a cup or two of water.
Aloe vera is a sun loving plant and needs at least a sq. ft to grow to its optimum height and spread. It is strongly advised to avoid the oral consumption of non-decolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera as it has shown to be slightly toxic.
Garlic is regarded as the best herb to lower blood sugar as well as repair cells of the pancreas and stimulate it to produce insulin. Garlic can significantly lower blood sugar as its extract reduces blood sugar levels during oral and intravenous glucose tolerance.
Garlic has been long known to lower blood sugar. Recent research by Dr. Y.M. Lee has revealed some more amazing aspects of this herb. High blood sugar causes oxidative stress and free-radical damage to the cells. Being rich in anti-oxidants, garlic helps to prevent several renal and cardiac complications that arise from high blood sugar. Another revealing fact is that aged, black garlic has greater proportions of anti-oxidants compared to regular garlic. Thus, it is more effective against the damage done by diabetes. Onther ancillary benefits in battling diabetes include lowering bad cholesterol in the blood, promoting blood flow and thus regulating blood pressure.
To grow garlic, carefully break the cloves from the bulbs, a process also known as cracking, and plant around 16 of them in a sq. ft. They require moderate amounts of water, but adequate sunshine. Your garlic should be ready to harvest in around 2 months and love the company of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, broccoli and carrots. Avoid planting them around beans, peas and parsley.
Fiery Costus or Spiral Flag is an herbaceous plant that is characterized by large fleshy looking leaves and is propagated by stem cutting. These plants grow very quickly and require moderate amounts of sun light. They grow to a height of 2 ft and are normally dried and powdered before they are consumed.
The author strongly recommends consulting an ayurvedic doctor on the correct quantities and duration of consumption of each of these plants or their various parts for optimum results.
Ginseng has long been used to promote body vigor, vitality and to prolong life. Ginsenosides which are found in ginseng have recently been credited with anti-diabetic activity. Dr. J.Z. Luo and Dr. L. Luo have found that these ginsenosides battle diabetes in two ways. Firstly, they reduce the insulin-resistance of the body. They also support and assist the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin and release it into the blood stream. They do this by increasing aerobic glycolysis through the stimulation of the beta-adrenoceptor. This direct effect of the ginseng root on the pancreas helps in combating diabetes.
The holy basil has been extensively used in Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda to treat diabetes. Dr.M.Bhat, the lead author for a paper on complementary and alternative medicine, reported that basil was extremely effective in relieving the condition of postprandial hyperglycemia. This is the excessive rise in blood-sugar levels immediately after eating. Basil prevents this by inhibiting the enzymes responsible for breaking down starch into sugars. Thus, it inhibits the activity of a-amylase in the saliva and the other glucosidases in the intestines and pancreas.
Recent research suggests that more than the apple, it is onion and garlic that help to keep the doctor away! Onion, like garlic, is rich in sulpha compounds. One chemical, allyly propyl disulphide also called as APDS, is of particular interest in treating diabetes. The liver is home to many insulin-deactivating sites that render insulin ineffective. Allyl propyl disulphide has a structure that competes with insulin in binding with the sites at the liver. This ensures that a greater number of insulin molecules are available in the blood to breakdown sugars. Apart from this, onion is also known lower the blood lipid levels and inhibit aggregation of platelets which results in a better overall blood circulation.
Bitter melon is an important part of Chinese medicine. Research teams from the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica and Garvan Institute of Medical Research in China have discovered how bitter melon helps diabetics. It contains four different bio-active compounds which activate the enzyme known as AMPK. This enzyme enables glucose uptake by regulating fuel metabolism in the body. Also, charatin and momordica present in bitter melon act as hypoglycemic agents in the bloodstream by mimicking the behavior of insulin.However, care should be taken and a physician consulted before taking this herb in conjunction with other anti-diabetic herbs to prevent possible cross-reactions.
Cinnamon has traditionally been used for a treating a variety of problems including gastro-intestinal disorders, colds, flu and urinary infections. James.A.Duke, a doctorate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that even one eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon triples the efficacy of insulin in the bloodstream. This is because in many cases, though the body produces sufficient insulin, it does not utilize it efficiently. Cinnamon helps by enhancing insulin’s ability to metabolize sugar. It contains the anti-oxidant glutathione and the the flavanoid, methylhydroxy chalcone polymer. These make even the fat cells more responsive towards insulin.
In a paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2009, lead author Dr. T. Cvjetićanin, reports an amazing antidiabetic property of the olive leaf extracts. The extract interferes with the production of cytokines in the body. The cytokines are chemical molecules which produce inflammation. This reduced inflammation successfully blocks the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. These beta cells are actively involved in the production of insulin. Thus, the insulin levels in the blood increase and diabetes is controlled.
Ginkgo has been used in medicine for centuries now. New research has revealed many important aspects of this herb which are medically useful. Research at the University of Texas Health and Science Center by Dr.Kudolo has shown that ginkgo reduces pallet aggregation. This results in increased circulation of the blood and thus prevents complications of diabetes that are circulation-based. In diabetics with falling insulin levels, ginkgo was also found to boost insulin production. However, the dosage of the herb is yet to be determined. Excessive use of the herb is known to cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomach upsets, diarrhea and even allergic skin reactions.
In the northern climes of the world, lingonberry has been used medicinally by people for centuries. Dr. L.P. Beaulieu in his article in Phytotherapy Research has shown how lingonberry extract was used successfully in history to treat diabetes and the complications arising out of diabetes. The ability to treat diabetes was because of the flavonoids thatare present in the lingonberry extracts. Copper is an essential mineral that is used in the treatment of diabetes and lingonberries have good concentrations of this mineral. Being rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, these berries also have associated anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A Japanese study on mice has shown that bliberry consumption reduces glucose levels in the blood and thus reduce the risk from diabetes. These berries are high in anthocyanin which affects the action of different proteins that are involved in fat metabolism and glucose transport. The anthocyanin activates a protein which in turn stimulates lipid breakdown (in muscles and liver) and modulates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).The net effect is an increased sensitivity towards insulin which enhanced the hormone’s efficacy. Bliberry leaves are also known to reduce risks of long-term and chronic diabetic problems such as diabetic cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
MORE ON DIABETES
Type 1 diabetes
“Brittle” diabetes, also known as unstable diabetes or labile diabetes, is a term that was traditionally used to describe to dramatic and recurrent swings in glucose levels, often occurring for no apparent reason in insulin-dependent diabetes. This term, however, has no biologic basis and should not be used. There are many reasons for type 1 diabetes to be accompanied by irregular and unpredictablehyperglycemias, frequently with ketosis, and sometimes serious hypoglycemias, including an impaired counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia, occult infection, gastroparesis (which leads to erratic absorption of dietary carbohydrates), and endocrinopathies (e.g., Addison’s disease). These phenomena are believed to occur no more frequently than in 1% to 2% of persons with type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
In the early stage of type 2, the predominant abnormality is reduced insulin sensitivity. At this stage, hyperglycemia can be reversed by a variety of measures and medications that improve insulin sensitivity or reduce glucose production by the liver.
Though it may be transient, untreated gestational diabetes can damage the health of the fetus or mother. Risks to the baby includemacrosomia (high birth weight), congenital cardiac and central nervous system anomalies, and skeletal muscle malformations. Increased fetal insulin may inhibit fetal surfactant production and cause respiratory distress syndrome. Hyperbilirubinemia may result from red blood cell destruction. In severe cases, perinatal death may occur, most commonly as a result of poor placental perfusion due to vascular impairment. Labor induction may be indicated with decreased placental function. A Caesarean section may be performed if there is marked fetal distress or an increased risk of injury associated with macrosomia, such as shoulder dystocia.
A 2008 study completed in the U.S. found the number of American women entering pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes is increasing. In fact, the rate of diabetes in expectant mothers has more than doubled in the past six years.This is particularly problematic as diabetes raises the risk of complications during pregnancy, as well as increasing the potential for the children of diabetic mothers to become diabetic in the future.