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Is Herbal Medicine Effective Against Diabetes?

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jul 07, 2021

Is Herbal Medicine Effective Against Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that is characterized by chronically elevated blood sugar levels due to the lack of insulin or the presence of insulin resistance. This causes sugar to be retained in the blood instead of getting used by the cells to generate energy. While doctors recommend insulin therapy, improved diet, and changes in lifestyle in treating diabetes, there are medicinal herbs with hypoglycemic properties proven to be effective in the treatment of this disease. Learn more about herbal medicine for diabetes. 

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes often results in heart problems, kidney failure, deteriorating eyesight, and other complications. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 422 million cases of diabetes in the world, and the disease causes about 1.6 million deaths annually.

There are several forms of diabetes mellitus but there are two main types: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which is why Type 1 is also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes.

The most common type of diabetes among adults is Type 2, also known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes. It occurs when the body becomes insulin resistant, resulting in less glucose uptake by the cells. Lifestyle management factors such as being sedentary, aging, and body fat distribution also play a role in the development of this disease. The following lifestyle factors are known to contribute to the disease: 

  • Being sedentary
  • Aging
  • High fat, high sugar diets
  • High body fat distribution

Insulin – along with proper diet, exercise, and medication for complications as needed – is the key to treating those with Type 2 diabetes. 

What Are the Possible Treatments for Type 2 Diabetes?

A lifestyle overhaul is a good start for people with diabetes mellitus. One must seek consultation with registered professionals for recommended exercises and dietary regimen to fit a patient’s current physical status, capacity, and motivation. This would also help determine how much food intake and what are the restrictions one must observe to prevent an increase of glucose levels in the blood. Doctors have recommended the use of herbal medicine for diabetes to complement the improved diet. (Note: It is best to consult your doctor.)  

Another standard treatment is the intake of oral glucose-lowering drugs. If dieting and proper exercise do not achieve desired results, doctors may prescribe medication to patients. One downside to this is that several patients will grow and acquire resistance to these drugs. If there is an optimal intake of oral medicines and blood sugar does not stabilize, your doctor may introduce insulin therapy. But doctors may also use this therapy for newly-diagnosed diabetes patients.

What Are the Effects of Drugs for Diabetes?

Depending on how one’s body reacts to certain medications, doctors will prescribe different drugs, the use of injections, or insulin to address these needs adequately. Realistically, this would sometimes entail that you take more than one pill, or that each pill contains different drugs.

The following are the expected effects of diabetic medications:

  • Produce more insulin by pancreatic stimulation.
  • Aid in minimizing the excessive production of glucose in the liver.
  • Inhibit the stomach enzymes from breaking down carbohydrates.
  • Help make the cells more sensitive to insulin to reduce glucose in the blood.
  • Prevent the reabsorption of glucose in the kidneys.
  • Help prevent rapid digestion.

The body will either react favorably or otherwise to certain drugs, and the doctor must prescribe accordingly to prevent the side effects that go along with these medications. For example, drugs that contain sulfonylureas and meglitinides can cause:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Stomachaches
  • Rashes
  • Weight gain

Thiazolidinediones, on the other hand, may cause anemia and pose a risk for liver damage. Other medications can cause diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, indigestion, nausea, dizziness, pancreatitis, thyroid complications, and even kidney failure. 

Why Consider Herbal Medicine for Diabetes?

Through prolonged usage, any prescribed diabetic drug may have side effects for those who use it. In an attempt to lessen these complications, doctors are studying herbal medicine for anti-diabetic properties.

Helps bring down blood sugar

Thus far, there are about more than 1,200 established herbal drugs, and each one has an important component in aiding the reduction of blood sugar in the body.  These plants are also said to possess antioxidant capabilities. These mean they aid in anti-diabetic activity and as well as the reduction of the toxic agents present in other medications. 

Can reduce cravings for sweets

A good example of a plant that exhibits hypoglycemic components is the Gymnema. The Gymnema sylvestre is a tropical climbing plant found in the forests of central and southern India and some parts of Africa. It has proven to be effective in preventing cravings for sugar. It does so by interfering with the tongue’s ability to taste sweet and bitter flavors. This helps in curbing the craving for sweet foods and lessen its intake. It also prevents the intestines from absorbing sugar, ultimately leading to lower blood sugar levels. 

Oxidative stress

Another benefit of herbal medicine for diabetes is its oxidative stress capabilities. Herbal remedies can also be beneficial in the treatment of other diseases or side effects caused by other diabetes medications. These plants do help reduce glucose levels in the blood. However, use them with caution, as they may contain their toxic agents as well.

Key Takeaways

The World Health Organization recommends more research with regards to herbal medicine for diabetes. Though current results are promising, there is still a need for more in-depth studies about the matter.

We also have to take into consideration that other factors can contribute to the treatment of diabetes in general. Herbal medicine is just one of them. It is necessary to maintain an active, balanced lifestyle and follow prescribed medications by your doctor to lessen complications caused by this disease.

Learn more about Herbals & Alternatives here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jul 07, 2021

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