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Diabetes Health Center

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Alternative Treatments for Diabetes

Concerns About Herbal Safety

In 2003, ephedrine -- also known as ma huang -- became the first herbal stimulant ever banned by the FDA. A popular component of anti-obesity over-the-counter drugs, ephedrine was found to have some benefits. However, the evidence of its ability to cause harm was far more compelling. In high doses, it has been known to cause insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep), high blood pressure, glaucoma, and urinary retention. This herbal supplement has also been associated with numerous cases of stroke.

Chitosan is derived from seashells and has the ability to bind to fat and prevent its absorption. Although it is purported to facilitate weight loss, available studies have not been encouraging.

Germander, momordica charanta, sauropus androgynus, and aristolochic acid have been associated with liver disease, pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.

The other so-called "obesity remedies" listed have not been rigorously studied and those that have yielded disappointing results.

Also, a recent survey of herbal preparations for obesity found that many preparations contained lead or arsenic and other toxic metals. Some also contain other undeclared ingredients.

Before Using Herbal Products for Diabetes

When considering treating diabetes with an herbal product, you should:

  • Discuss any drugs you are thinking of using, including herbal products, with your doctor before taking them.
  • If you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, or skin rashes, stop taking the herbal product and notify your doctor immediately.
  • Avoid preparations made with more than one herb.
  • Beware of commercial claims of what herbal products can do. Look for scientific-based sources of information.
  • Select brands carefully. Only purchase brands that list the herb's common and scientific name, the name and address of the manufacturer, a batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines, along with potential side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 28, 2014
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