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Gymnema is a shrub that grows in India and Africa. People in India have been using gymnema leaves for thousands of years to try to treat diabetes. The Hindu word for gymnema -- gurmar -- means "sugar destroyer."

Why do people take gymnema?

Some people use gymnema supplements as part of their diabetes treatment plan. Some early research suggests it could help.

Combined with diabetes drugs and insulin, gymnema supplements may help lower blood sugar levels in people with types 1 and 2 diabetes. However, we need more research to know for sure.

Diabetes is a very serious condition. Don't ever try to treat it on your own with supplements.

Some animal studies have found that gymnema may reduce weight and lower triglycerides, a type of cholesterol. We don't know if it would have these benefits in people.

Some use gymnema for many other conditions. They include everything from cough to malaria to snake bites. Experts have never tested these uses.

Optimal doses of gymnema have not been set for any condition. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to set a standard dose. Ask your doctor for advice.

Can you get gymnema naturally from foods?

Gymnema leaves are edible. Traditionally, people would chew on the leaves as treatment. Some people use powdered gymnema leaves to make tea.

What are the risks?

Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.

Side effects. Experts aren't sure if gymnema has side effects.

Risks. Don't take gymnema for diabetes on your own. Talk to a doctor first.

If you're getting surgery, you may need to stop taking gymnema two weeks before the procedure.

It's not known if gymnema is safe for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Interactions. If you take any medications regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using gymnema supplements. They could interact with drugs for diabetes, causing dangerously low blood sugar.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on January 23, 2015

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