Gymnema sylvestre is a member of the milkweed family. It is a woody climbing plant that is native to the tropical regions of India. The leaves are used in herbal medicine preparations and is known as "periploca of the woods" in English. In Sanskrit it is known as mesbasringi (meaning "ram's horn"). When the leaves are chewed they interfere with the mouths ability to taste sweetness. Hence the Hindi name gurmar - "destroyer of sugar". The plant constituents include two resins, one of which is soluble in alcohol. The other constituents are gymnemic acids, saponins, stigmasterol, quercitol, and the amino acid derivatives betaine, choline and trimethylamine.
For years people in India with diabetes have chewed the leaves to help control blood sugar levels. A few small studies have indicated that the extract may actually lower blood sugar levels. There have been animal studies done that also support this use. The studies indicate that gymnema can double the amount of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, , and return blood sugar levels to normal.
Studies done with people who have type 1 diabetes have shown that gymnema may enhance the action of insulin. In one specific study, people who took gymnema leaf extract for several months required less insulin to control their blood sugar levels. In people with type 2 diabetes, also known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes, gymnema leaf extract has improved blood sugar levels and resulted in the need for less oral medications to control the disease.
As good as this may sound, people with diabetes should not abandon proven ways to manage the disease. They should still eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and use medications if needed. It is critical that you follow your doctors instructions and always consult them before supplementing with gymnema sylvestre.
Gymnema has also been used to treat a variety of other disorders as well. Digestion problems, cough, constipation, and malaria are just a few. Intriguing new animal studies suggest that gymnema may play a role in lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
In other animal and human studies, it has been found to increase urine output and reduce hyperglycemia. Gymnema sylvestre is also a stomachic, diuretic, refrigerant, astringent, and tonic. Gymnema also has therapeutic effects for treating rheumatic arthritis and gout.
Certain medications may interact with gymnema. They may alter the dosage of drugs needed to commonly treat diabetes, including glipizide, metformin, and insulin. You should only use gymnema to lower blood sugar levels under the clinical supervision of a healthcare professional. Gymnema is generally safe and devoid of side effects. The effects of gymnema on pregnant or nursing women has not yet been determined.