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Bitter Remedies the Sweet

Fast facts:
Diabetes affects 25.8 million people of all ages, about 8.3% of the U.S. populationDIAGNOSED
18.8 million people

7.0 million people
35% of U.S. adults ages 20 years or older and 50% of adults ages 65 years or older have pre-diabetes
79 million American adults ages 20 years or older are estimated to have pre-diabetes
Source: National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)

The most popular medications have only a slight impact on blood sugar and at the cost of significant side effects and possible complications, including fatal acidosis.  For thousands of years, Ayurvedic physicians from India have recognized diabetes and called it “thirsting and wasting disease”.

They knew that patients who had this disease had sugary urine.  Don’t ask me how they knew; as for me, I’m happy to send in samples to the lab for testing!  Since the urine was sweet, and the disease was worse with sweet foods, the doctors believed that bitter tasting compounds could counter this.  One that was used is called Gurmar, which is Sanskrit for ‘destroyer of sugar’.   Today we call this plant Gymnema.  We now know it can help regenerate the pancreatic cells lost in diabetes.  An amazing related effect it has is that it temporarily blocks the tongue’s ability to taste anything sweet!This is a fun experiment.  Take a 1 ounce tincture bottle of Gymnema, place 1 dropper-full of the liquid in your mouth and swish it around for 1 minute than spit it out.  Now try a familiar sweet food.  I’ve conducted this in classes and then passed out oreo cookies.  For several hours they taste like flavorless dirt.  Some people who really crave sweets use this daily to break the cycle.

A large study was recently done on diabetics using another bitter herb.  The compound is called berberine and it is an extract of several bitter, yellow herbs such as Goldenseal, Oregon Grape root and Coptis.  We have successfully used this compound to fight infections and lower fever for quite some time but now it has a larger role to play.

The study showed that berberine is every bit as effective, and of course much safer, than metformin, the most commonly prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes.  In the study, 36 adults with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes were given berberine or metformin (500 milligrams of either, three times a day) for 3 months.  At the end, average fasting blood sugars in the berberine group dropped from 191 to 124 points, average blood sugar after eating dropped from 356 to 199 points.  Most impressively, the 3 month blood sugar average (hemoglobin A1C) plummeted from 9.5 percent to 7.5 percent.  The researchers were so impressed they said: “Compared with metformin, berberine exhibited an identical effect in the regulation of glucose metabolism, such as HbA1c, FBG [fasting blood glucose], PBG [blood sugar after eating], fasting insulin and postprandial insulin [insulin level after eating]. In the regulation of lipid metabolism (reduction of triglycerides and cholesterol), berberine activity is better than metformin. ”

. . . and weight loss!
In a related study, diabetics also saw their weight decrease from an average 151 pounds to an average 146 pounds with berberine.  Overall the side effects are minimal and the plant is not costly.  If you’re waiting for the full page ads in the New York Times or a TV ad during the Superbowl, don’t hold your breath!

A question I get all the time is something along the lines of ‘why don’t other doctors know about this?’  The name of the game is patentability.  Unfortunately, since berberine is natural, it is non patentable.  This means that no large drug company will want to invest in it, since their competitors could also sell it.

Along with a well crafted diet and exercise plan, diabetes can be radically improved or even reversed with safe natural medicines.  Never give up hope and never assume you don’t have options!

Yin, J., H. Xing, et al. (2008). Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus Metabolism 57(5): 712-7.

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