Gymnema sylvestre is a type of climbing shrub that is woody in nature and is found primarily in Africa. It is the leaves of this shrub that are used to make medicine designed to counteract the effects of diabetes. This is a type of herbal supplement commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, popular in India, where it has been used for centuries. The Hindi name for Gymnema sylvestre is gurmar, which stands for “destroyer of sugar”.
In today’s time, Gymnema sylvestre is used in the management of metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, cough, and weight loss. In Africa, it is used to treat malaria and as an antidote for snake bites. Some Ayurvedic doctors use Gymnema sylvestre as a laxative, a diuretic, an appetite suppressant, and as a stimulant for the digestive tract.
Needless to say, Gymnema sylvestre is not in common use for the treatment of diabetes in Western medical circles. Much of what we know about the leaves and the extracts made from the leaves of the shrub can be found in research studies that have been done on both animals with diabetes and, in some cases, humans with diabetes.
No one knows the whole function of Gymnema sylvestre in the management of diabetes but, according to the latest research, it is believed to contain chemicals that decrease the amount of glucose that is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines. It is also believed to stimulate the secretion of insulin in the pancreas by regenerating the Islets of Langerhans cells, which are the cells in the pancreas that make insulin for the body.
Research on Gymnema Sylvestre
There have been several research studies on the use of Gymnema sylvestre in the management of high blood sugar and diabetes in humans and rats. The outcome of these studies is demonstrated here:
One study looked at the effectiveness of GS4, which is an extract from the Gymnema sylvestre leaves, in the management of hyperglycemia. The study was a small one, looking at only 22 patients with type 2 diabetes who were also taking regular oral medications to control their diabetes. GS4 was given at 400 milligrams per day to each of the study’s participants for 18 to 20 months. Each participant was on both the supplement and their conventional Western medical treatment for diabetes. During the supplementation of GS4 in these participants, it was discovered that the fasting blood glucose levels, the hemoglobin A1c levels, and the glycosylated plasma protein levels all decreased after Gymnema sylvestre was added to their diabetic regimen. The supplement was so successful that 5 of the participants of the study were able to stop taking their conventional drug treatment for diabetes and were able to maintain normal levels of glucose and normal hemoglobin A1c levels even after their conventional treatments were discontinued. The researchers determined that the beta cells of the pancreas may have been repaired or regenerated in those participants who took GS4 as a supplement for their diabetes mellitus. The insulin levels were found to increase in those patients who took the GS4 supplement.
A study was performed on the water soluble extracts from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre, which were labeled GS3 and GS4. The extracts were tested on rats treated with streptozotocin who subsequently developed diabetes. The researchers looked for the effect of the extracts on the blood sugar levels and the pancreatic tissues in rats who took the supplements as part of their daily diet. In the rats, who all had diabetes from streptozotocin, had abnormal blood glucose levels before the study and had fasting blood sugar levels return to normal after being given 60 days of GS3 and after being given 20 days of GS4 by mouth. Blood from the rats was collected to check the levels of insulin in the blood as well as to perform an oral glucose tolerance test on the rats. In the diabetic rats, both GS3 and GS4 were found to increase the number of islet cells and beta cells in the rats. These are the cells that make insulin for the body. The conclusion of the researchers was that Gymnema sylvestre was able to cause normalization of blood glucose levels because the extract increased the pancreatic beta cell production so that more insulin was available in these diabetic rats.
In another study, GS4, which is a water soluble extract from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre, was given to 27 participants who had insulin-dependent diabetes medication and who were also on insulin treatments for their diabetes. Each participant took 400 milligrams per day of the extract along with their insulin. After taking the GS4 extract, the participants needed less insulin to control their diabetes and had reductions in both the fasting blood sugar and the glycosylated hemoglobin levels (hemoglobin A1c). In addition, those participants who had increased blood cholesterol levels had a normalization of their levels after taking the Gymnema sylvestre extract. Those patients were followed for 10-12 months after being given the extract and it was felt that the reason behind the normalization of blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c levels was due to a regeneration of the beta cells in the pancreas of participants with type 1 diabetes mellitus.
In another study, 22 people who were taking medications for their type 2 diabetes also took GS4, which is an extract from the leaves of the Gymnema sylvestre leaves. Each participant took 400 milligrams of the extract per day. At the end of the study, those who took the supplement had significant decreases in the fasting blood sugar level, the hemoglobin A1c level, and the glycosylated plasma protein levels. The study lasted for about 18 months and it was felt again that the reduction in blood sugar levels was directly related to regeneration of beta cells in the pancreas of type 2 diabetic patients.
In short, it can be said that Gymnema sylvestre extract has the possibility to normalize blood sugar levels and decrease the hemoglobin A1c levels by one of two mechanisms. Either the extracts caused a reduction in the amount of glucose absorbed by the intestinal tract or it helped to regenerate the beta cells in the pancreas of both type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics.
This has implications for the modern medical treatment for diabetes mellitus. If the glucose reduction and hemoglobin A1c levels decrease in larger studies of diabetic patients, it is possible that more doctors in the Western world will recommend that their diabetic patients take extracts of Gymnema sylvestre as part of their diabetic health care along with or instead of taking conventional medical treatments for their disease.
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Little known fact: Gymnema Sylvestre is known as ‘gurmar’ in ancient Indian texts, a word meaning ‘sugar destroyer’, which gives an indication of its uses in medicine.
It is used to reduce the absorption of glucose into the body, and also reduce the sweetness of foods, both of which are desirable for those wishing to lose weight and to reduce the level of sugar in their blood. It was used for this purpose in Ayurvedic medicine, subjects being given the leaves to chew. As with many other ancient Ayurvedic remedies, this use of gymnema sylvestre has passed into modern times, and has sound scientific basis
The main constituents are terpenoid saponins known as gymnemic acids, so one can assume that they were first found in this plant. They are glycosides, including hodulcine and ziziphin, which act as sweetness inhibitors so that there is no sweet taste in anything that is sweetened by sucrose. There are over 20 types of gymnemic acid in the leaves, of which the strongest, Gymnemic Acid 1, can suppress the sweetness even of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
These are not irreversible effects, and last only about 10 minutes, after which normal sweetness is detectable by your tongue. During the active period, however, a solution of normal sugar will taste like ordinary unsweetened water. However, is this just a matter of taste, or does it affect the sugar itself?
Studies have shown that animals fed the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre develop hypoglycemia, probably because it stimulates the pancreas to generate insulin that reduces the level of sugar in the blood. Further studies have shown the presence in the leaves of a number of types of acylated derivatives of deacylgymnemic acid. There are well over a dozen types of saponins known to be contained within the leaves.
Other chemicals found include anthraquinones, flavanoids, chlorophylls, querticol, phytin, a number of glycosides and anthraquinones. The bush also contains alkaloids, although these are constituents in most plants used in ancient remedies. This is by no means all of the chemicals discovered, and many of the minor benefits of using it could be due to the minor constituents of this amazing little leaf.
A study of the above constituents will reveal a few antioxidants, and it is no surprise that the extract from Gymnema sylvestre also possesses anti-inflammatory properties. Gymnemic acid is believed to have a similar chemical structure to saccharose, and the plant extracts can be used not only to reduce a craving for sugar, but also to treat digestive problems and high cholesterol levels.
So what scientific evidence is there other than the obvious effects reported by those that use it?
A study in the UK in 2005 found that an aqueous extract of Gymnema sylvestre caused the secretion of calcium and insulin from mouse and human cells to be increased at a specific concentration without affecting the cellular function. This means that the supplement can be used to stimulate the secretion of insulin with people with Type 2 diabetes without otherwise affecting health. Its usefulness to diabetics is obvious, but there are other health benefits to those that are not diabetic.
Anything that modulates a sweet tooth must be of use to those seeking to lose weight, particularly if they feel the need for sweet foods. In fact Gymnema tends to reduce food cravings for carbohydrates and sweets, and can be used by those seeking a natural means of curbing their appetite for sweet and sugary foods.
Although there have been many discussions about the biochemical mechanism of the gymnemic acids in this effect on taste, recent evidence suggests that the phytochemicals act on both your taste buds and on those parts of the intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients from digested foods.
Not only that, but studies have also indicated that Gymnema sylvestre removes the bitterness of acerbic chemicals such as quinine in the same way that it removes the sweetness form cakes and candies, and if you drank tonic water it would taste just like water. On the other hand, if you ate an orange, you would taste the acidity but not the sweetness.
The way to use this remarkable supplement is to follow the instructions, and within about a week you will be able to control your appetite much better, and any cravings for carbohydrates you previously had will be much reduced. After a month or so, you will notice an accelerated rate of weight loss if you had been overweight, and diabetics will find a significant reduction on blood sugar between insulin shots.
Gymnema sylvestre can take care of any sugar or carbohydrate cravings, and is of significant use to the overweight, obese or to diabetics, and the mechanism by which it works has now been all but understood, although there are still some biochemical secrets that this amazing plant has yet to reveal.
Native to India and Africa, the climbing shrub Gymnema Sylvestre has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
Today, it is gaining support from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health as helpful in controlling blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and 2 diabetes.*
Here are a few other significant benefits of this unique herb:
…Natural sweetness inhibitor—helping to reduce your craving for sweets.*
…Promotes appetite suppression.*
…Blocks sugar absorption.*
…Helps balance blood sugar.*
…Positively effects insulin production.*
Sources: Journal of Clinical Biochemical Nutrition & Journal of Science Food Agriculture.