Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is a climbing plant that grows in the tropical forests of central and southern India. The woody gymnema plant also grows in parts of Africa. Leaves of this long, slender plant have been used for more than 2,000 years in India to treat diabetes.
In the past, powdered Gymnema sylvestre root was used to treat snake bites, constipation, stomach complaints, water retention, and liver disease.
Gymnema sylvestre and diabetes Diabetes is a consequence of abnormalities in the blood levels of insulin, the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy. Adultonset diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to adequately process insulin. Today it is known as Type II diabetes.
The plant’s sugar-destroying property was released when a person chewed on one or two leaves. Gymnema sylvestre was said to paralyze a person’s tongue to the taste of sugar and bitter tastes.Gymnema sylvestre has also been used in folk medicine as a remedy for allergies, urinary tract inflections, anemia, hyperactivity, digestion, cholesterol, and weight control. Most of those treatments did not prove to be effective.
Contemporary uses of gymnema Currently, gymnema is known primarily for its sugar-blocking properties. It is used to treat high blood sugar in diabetics and has been promoted as a weight loss remedy. In India, Gymnema sylvestre has been used by both Type I and Type II diabetics, but is used mainly to treat Type II diabetics. Some clinical trials in India indicated that Gymnema sylvestre could help with both types of diabetes. During the 1990s, Type II diabetics in India were studied, and gymnema proved successful for lowering blood sugar with continuous use for 18 to 24 months.
A weight-loss remedy? Although Gymnema sylvestre won’t make sugary foods taste bad, the sugar destroyer is said to curb the desire for sweets. Due to this sugar-blocking property, gymnema is marketed as a weight-loss remedy.
Gymnema sylvestre is available commercially as a water soluble extract that is standardized to contain 24% gymne- mic acid. The usual dosage of is 400–600 mg of Gymnema sylvestre per day. However, the strengths of commercial products can vary. A person taking gymnema should follow the directions on the package. When taken in capsule form, the dosage of gymnema is one 100-mg capsule taken three to four times daily. Gymnema is also available in powdered form. The recommended dosage for powdered gymnema leaves is 0.5–1 tsp (2–4 g) per day. An herbal tea can be prepared by pouring 1 cup (240 ml) of boiling water over the powdered leaves. The mixture is covered and steeped for 10–15 minutes. The tea is strained before it is consumed.
Before beginning any herbal treatment, people should consult a physician or health practitioner. Consulting a medical professional is particularly important before taking gymnema because the remedy could potentially lower blood sugar too much, resulting in a hypoglycemic reaction. It is especially important for diabetics to consult with a doctor. Gymnema sylvestre should not be regarded as a substitute for other medications. If people diagnosed with Type I or Type II diabetes are taking insulin to control their blood sugar, they cannot replace the insulin with Gymnema sylvestre.
As of June 2000, Gymnema sylvestre was believed to be free of side effects when taken at the recommended dosages. However, more research could reveal side effects.