Gymnema Sylvestre May Help Control Blood Sugar and Sugar Cravings

Used in Ayurvedic medicine for nearly 2,000 years, this powerful herb may be an effective adjunct to Type 2 diabetes management.

Medicine’s future is rooted in the past, where nature provided most of our medicines through plants. Today, herbs are making a comeback as medical practitioners and patients recognize their potent therapeutic properties and relative safety compared to pharmaceuticals.

Gymnema sylvestre, an herb used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, has been prescribed by traditional Ayurvedic practitioners in India to treat diabetes and various other ailments for nearly 2,000 years.

Many Western health practitioners have been interested in its ability to lower high blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings, particularly because of its potential for treating diabetes. The herb may also cool inflammation, aid in weight loss, and lower LDL (sometimes called “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Use in Ayurvedic Medicine

Medicinal plants are a central part of the Ayurvedic system of medicine, an ancient Indian medical system that relies on a holistic physical and mental health approach.

“The Ayurvedic approach is based on the human being’s mind/body and how it corresponds to the five root elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether,” Jamie Bacharach, a licensed medical acupuncturist, told The Epoch Times in an email.

According to Ms. Bacharach, this Ayurvedic approach is the same today as it has been for thousands of years.

“The main goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to help people live longer, healthier lives without prescription medications,” she said.

Instead, Ayurvedic practitioners use a range of treatments, including yoga, acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicines.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of herbal tea, as it were, but many people find solace, comfort, and healing through its teachings and practices.”

Gymnema sylvestre, also known in Hindi as “gurmar,” means “sugar destroyer.” Gymnema leaves contain gymnemic acid, a compound known to inhibit the taste of sugar.

It’s part of the milkweed family and grows in India and parts of China, Africa, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.

Gymnema sylvestre plant. (HerbToday/Shutterstock)
Gymnema sylvestre plant. (HerbToday/Shutterstock)
While Gymnema has deep historical roots in medicinal uses such as treating malaria and snakebites, its efficacy in fighting diabetes naturally by regulating blood sugar and insulin is where it has gained the most recognition.

Therapeutic and Clinical Potential

A 2019 comprehensive review of Gymnema sylvestre published in Frontiers in Pharmacology looked at all published studies to date to identify the plant’s phytochemical, pharmacological, and clinical potential.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants. The stems of Gymnema sylvestre contain specific therapeutic compounds, including stigmasterol and triterpenoid saponin.

Stigmasterol, a plant sterol, contains antidiabetic, anti-cancer, antioxidant, and hypoglycemic properties.

Triterpenoid saponins have myriad pharmacological benefits, including anti-tumor, antifungal, antioxidant, immunomodulation, and antidiabetic activities.

Improves Blood Sugar Levels

In 1887, pharmacist and researcher David Hooper published a study in Nature after observing that by chewing on the leaves of the Gymnema plant, one could no longer taste the sweetness of sugar. “Sugar in combination with other … dietetic articles is plainly destroyed as to its taste after using these leaves. In gingerbread [sic], for instance, the pungency of ginger alone is detected; the rest is a tasteless meal,” he wrote.

Mr. Hooper also isolated essential parts of the plant into gymnemic acids, the most important component for lowering blood glucose.

In 1925, K.G. Gharpurey, a civil surgeon, wrote about his experience with Gymnema sylvestre in a letter to the editor of the Indian Medical Gazette. His curiosity was sparked after reading how others lost the taste of sugar when chewing on the plant’s leaves. He mixed a powder of the leaves with diabetic urine and found it reduced the percentage of sugar in the urine. He then tested it by administering it to people and found it had the same effect of reducing or eliminating sugar in the urine.
He wrote, “This note is written in order that medical officers may give the drug a wide-spread clinical trial in the treatment of diabetes, as the antidiabetic properties of the plant seem to have been overlooked hitherto.”

Increases Insulin Secretion

Gymnema stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. While that is remarkable in itself, the plant has an additional property that make it a potentially groundbreaking treatment for diabetes.

“In 1990 a series of published studies on Gymnema sylvestre extract lifted this herb from interesting to revolutionary. It was shown that the administration of Gymnema sylvestre extract to diabetic animals not only resulted in improved glucose homeostasis, this improvement was accompanied by a regeneration of beta cells in the pancreas,” noted a comprehensive review of the plant published in Pharmacologyonline in 2008.

The pancreas makes insulin. Type 1 diabetics suffer an inability to make this critical hormone and when Type 2 diabetes progress, the pancreas deteriorates and struggles to make enough insulin.

A study published in India in 1987 was one of the first to make this discovery.

Another mechanism of Gymnemic sylvestre is its ability to block glucose from entering the bloodstream. The molecules that make up gymnemic acid have a similar structure to glucose, allowing it to bind with the sugar receptor site in the intestines and preventing glucose from entering the bloodstream, thus lowering blood sugar.

“When you eat a lot of sugar, you get a rush. But then you crash because of the large amount of insulin released in response to the sugar in the system, and thirty minutes after eating the sugary food, you end up craving sugar again. By binding to the sugar receptor site, Gymnema sylvestre keeps blood sugar from entering the bloodstream and maintains homeostasis in the system,” said Margie Navarro, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist.

A 90-day 2011 study of 65 patients who took Gymnema sylvestre showed an 11 percent reduction in their mean pre-meal blood glucose concentration. Supplementation with Gymnema sylvestre also lowered blood glucose two hours after a meal by 13 percent and lowered hemoglobin A1C from 8.8 percent to 8.2 percent. Additionally, 11 patients in the group with the poorest blood sugar regulation, with an initial hemoglobin A1C of 10 percent or greater, were able to decrease their antidiabetic medications. Hemoglobin A1C measures the average blood sugar levels over the past three months.

Mechanisms of Antidiabetic Activity

Several mechanisms of action have been proposed to explain the antidiabetic activity of Gymnema sylvestre, including the sugar-blocking effect of gymnemic acids mentioned above.

Gymnema sylvestre also increased insulin secretion, suggesting the possibility of insulin and pancreatic beta-cell regeneration. Beta cells in the pancreas produce and secrete insulin to regulate blood glucose levels.

A 2017 study showed that a compound (methanol extract) in the plant increased beta-cell regeneration, suggesting that it may recover pancreatic-cell function and possibly treat Type 1 diabetes.

(The Epoch Times)
(The Epoch Times)

Ms. Navarro told The Epoch Times that while studies have shown Gymnema sylvestre’s ability to regenerate beta cells, “with Type 1 diabetes, it’s beyond the scope to think you would have a complete turnaround and not need insulin.”

Ms. Navarro and Ms. Bacharach stress that the supplement does not replace prescribed diabetic medications and that people should only take it as an adjunct to a regular diet and exercise regimen that can naturally keep blood glucose and insulin levels in homeostasis.

Very high doses may lower blood glucose to harmful levels and cause weakness, confusion, and dizziness, and it shouldn’t be taken at the same time as other insulin-lowering medications. Patients with diabetes should be under the care of an endocrinologist when taking Gymnema sylvestre, Ms. Navarro advised. “You will want the endocrinologist to monitor how your insulin use changes with supplementation and potentially reduce the daily insulin doses if needed.”

Ms. Bacharach’s patients usually take Gymnema sylvestre with traditional antidiabetic medications. “In my experience, it has always been a complementary intervention, not a standalone one. It’s also important to note that no supplement can replace diet and exercise. Taking care of your body is your No. 1 job and top priority.”

Reduces Sugar Cravings and Aids Weight Loss

Gymnema Sylvestre can also help promote weight loss by controlling blood sugar levels and reducing sweet-cravings. The mechanism that binds with the sugar receptor site in the intestines to block glucose absorption has the same reaction on the tongue to stop the taste of sugar.

“Gymnema sylvestre reduces the metabolic effects of insulin,” Ms. Navarro said. “Reducing the amount of insulin in the blood also regulates the amount of circulating triglycerides that can often cause weight gain around the middle that is typical in metabolic syndrome.”

In a 2013 systematic review, hydroxy citric acid (an extract from various tropical plants) combined with Gynmnema sylvestre significantly reduced body weight, body mass index (BMI), LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.

Lowers Lipids and Triglycerides

Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract also showed potent lipid-lowering properties when administered to female Wister rats. Researchers fed the rats a high-fat diet for four weeks, inducing significant weight gain, increasing LDL and triglyceride levels, and lowering HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels. After four weeks, the rats were divided into groups and given either Gymnema sylvestre or atorvastatin, a standard cholesterol-lowering drug.

After four weeks of Gymnema sylvestre or atorvastatin, the researchers found that Gymnema sylvestre lowered both LDL and triglyceride levels and raised HDL cholesterol.

The researchers concluded that while Gymnema sylvestre didn’t have the same potential effect on cholesterol as atorvastatin, it can still be considered an adjunct therapy for hyperlipidemia since, according to the researchers, herbal drugs are considered safer and cheaper alternatives.

A 2021 meta-analysis found that supplementing with Gymnema sylvestre could significantly reduce triglycerides in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Similar results were found in a 2023 meta-analysis that concluded that supplementing with Gymnema sylvestre can significantly decrease total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol, suggesting the potential to improve cardiovascular risk factors.

How to Use Gymnema Sylvestre

There are several different ways to take Gymnema sylvestre. The Gymnema leaves are edible and traditionally have been chewed. Some people make tea with ground Gymnema leaves.

(Tawin Mukdharakosa/Shutterstock)
(Tawin Mukdharakosa/Shutterstock)

Ms. Navarro suggests using the dried herb form mixed with your coffee in a French press for a lower dosage. “You can also get it as an alcohol-based tincture extract, which will be in a higher dosage range than the dried herb or capsule forms.

“Many companies do third-party testing, and you can ask if they’ve done qualitative studies on the product to assure the potency. Find brands that will answer all your questions about where the herb is sourced and have a range of high-quality products,” she said.

Safety and Side Effects

Gymnema sylvestre is generally considered safe for adults when taken in recommended doses. Certain people should avoid taking the herb due to the lack of safety research, including:

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Children and infants.
  • People with diabetes (unless supervised by a physician).
  • Those with an allergy to milkweed since it’s in the same family.

St. John’s wort has been known to lower blood glucose levels and should not be taken with Gymnema sylvestre.

One study reported liver toxicity in a patient treated for diabetes with Gymnema, suggesting it may be associated with the condition. However, the authors found no previous reports associating Gymnema sylvestre with liver injury.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Allison DeMajistre where all credits are due.


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