Herbal Extract May Treat Diabetes Like a Drug

Salacia Oblonga Appears to Dramatically Reduce Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

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Feb. 11, 2005 -- An herbal extract used in traditional Indian medicine may treat diabetes as effectively as prescription medications, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a large dose of the herb Salacia oblonga lowered blood sugar and insulin levels by 23% and 29%, respectively, in healthy normal-weight adults.

"These kinds of reductions are similar to what we might see with prescription oral medications for people with diabetesprescription oral medications for people with diabetes," says researcher Steve Hertzler, assistant professor of nutrition at Ohio State University, in a news release.

It remains to be seen whether the herb would have the same effect in people with diabetes, but researchers say the results merit further research to answer that question.

"Lowering blood glucose levels lowers the risk of disease-related complications in people with diabetes," says Hertzler. "Also, poor compliance with diabetes medications often hinders the effectiveness of these drugs. It may be easier to get someone to take an herb with food or in a beverage, as opposed to a pill."

Salacia oblonga is an herb native to regions of India and Sri Lanka, which binds to enzymes in the intestine that break down carbohydrates into sugar (glucose). The herb works similar to medication used to treat diabetes known as alpha-glucosidase inhibitorsalpha-glucosidase inhibitors, such as Precose or Glyset. When these enzymes bind to the herbal extract rather than to carbohydrates, less glucose is absorbed, resulting in lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

In the study, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers examined the effect of different doses of Salacia oblonga on insulin and blood sugar levels in 39 healthy adults.

How Large a Dose Is Needed?

The participants drank four test meals consisting of a carbohydrate-rich beverage fortified with either 0 (placebo), 500, 700, or 1,000 milligrams of Salacia oblonga herbal extract on four different occasions after fasting for 12 hours. Researchers then measured blood sugar and insulin levels two hours after the meal.

Since Salacia oblonga can cause intestinal gas, researchers also measured breath hydrogen as an indicator of intestinal gas for eight hours after the meal.

The results showed that the largest dose of the herbal extract reduced blood sugar levels by 23% and insulin levels by 29% compared with the placebo. The other, smaller doses of the herbal extract did not have an impact on blood sugar or insulin levels.

Researchers found breath hydrogen levels increased as the dose of Salacia oblonga increased, but there were only minimal reports of gastrointestinal discomfort.

The say the next questions are to determine which dose of the herbal extract is optimal for achieving blood sugar control in people with diabetes and when it should be taken.

"We want to know how long it takes for the herb to bind to the enzymes that break down carbohydrates," says Hertzler. "The participants in this study took the herb with their meal, but maybe taking it before eating would be even more effective."

Hertzler says Salacia oblonga is relatively hard to find in the U.S., but the herbal extract is sold by some manufacturers over the Internet.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Heacock, P. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, January 2005; vol 105: pp 65-71. News release, Ohio State Univesity.
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