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Get on Track with Better Living

Find information, tips, and resources on managing your diabetes

Live a healthier, fuller life by learning more about the types of diabetes, potential complications, and ways to receive insurance coverage.

Exotic Herbs and Diabetes

When people with diabetes receive their diagnosis, it's not unusual for them to look at exotic herbs to help manage their illness. Unfortunately, there aren't any herbs on the market that have yet been scientifically proven to have a sustained, positive impact on insulin or blood sugar levels. A few have experienced some encouraging clinical trials- but even they are still far from being approved by the FDA and other regulatory bodies.

This isn't to say that exotic herbs can't play any role in managing diabetes, only the diabetics should regard them as secondary supplements that may or may not work. Here are some of the primary exotic herbs marketed to diabetics, and information which may be useful when deciding whether to try them:

Ginseng: Preliminary studies supported the idea that ginseng improved the body's sensitivity to insulin. However, a 2011 study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis now makes this theory appear unlikely. That being said, ginseng may still have energy restoring properties that diabetics could find beneficial.

Bitter Melon: While initial tests are encouraging, there is currently insufficient clinical data to say for sure how beneficial bitter melon may or may not be for diabetics. Currently, it appears that this exotic herb may increase insulin sensitivity. However, users should be aware that bitter melon has not yet been studied for long-term side effects. In addition, it is likely unsafe for women who are either pregnant or wish to become so.

Fenugreek: Fenugreek is an exotic herb that is believed to lower blood sugar, although there is very little clinical data to back this claim. There are also reports it may also help lower cholesterol, but existing evidence is conflicting and not yet thoroughly analyzed. People with diabetes considering fenugreek should be aware that it has been associated with slow blood clotting and early labor contractions.

Gymnema Sylvestre (Cowplant): This exotic herb hails from India, where it acts as a traditional folk-remedy for diabetic symptoms. Initial studies suggest gymnema slyvestre may have a beneficial impact on the pancreas. However, until these findings are confirmed and side effects are studied, diabetics should use it with caution.

People with diabetes are urged to remember that herbs should never be considered a replacement for exercise, a healthy diet, or standard diabetic medications and treatments. It's also crucial for diabetics to discuss herbal supplements with their doctors before making any a part of their diet. Many herbs affect more than one area of the body, and could easily conflict with existing medications.

If you have questions about these or any other exotic herbs, consult with your doctor or a licensed nutritionist for more information.