Are Medicinal Herbs Answer to Diabetes Medication without Side Effects?

Photo by Meg Lessard

Photo by Meg Lessard

By Case Adams, Naturopath

Researchers from the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy have conducted an extensive analysis of medicinal plants and found that a number of them modulate cellular PPAR receptors – which means they can help regulate glucose and fat metabolism.

The researchers screened extracts from a total of 263 species of herbs from 94 plant families. They found that eight of the extracts activated the PPARα (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor – alpha) and 22 of the plant extracts activated the PPARγ (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor – gamma).

Of these, five plant extracts activated both receptors. They were Daphine (Daphne gnidium), Star Anise (Illicium anisatum), Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), and Thymelaea (Thymelaea hirsuta).

Among these, the Haritaki and Thymelaea were found to significantly stimulate both the PPARα and PPARγ receptor proteins, while inhibiting the process of adipogenesis – the process of fat cell expansion that results in a higher risk of obesity.

Haritaki and Thymelaea inhibited the process of fat cell expansion, while the Red Cedar and the Daphine actually reduced adipose (fat) cells – making them potential remedies for obesity reduction.

The big news is the ability of these herbs to activate the PPARα and PPARγ receptors – giving them the ability to help diabetics process insulin better. How so?

The PPARα receptor facilitates insulin reception – the ability of the cell to attach to insulin, and thus utilize glucose. If the cell does not receive insulin (bind onto receptors) properly, the cell cannot adequately absorb glucose – leaving glucose free in the bloodstream. Free glucose has been tied to a variety of ill effects, including artery damage, obesity and heart disease.

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Meanwhile, the PPARγ protein decreases the risk of the cell becoming resistant to insulin.

All this means that increasing the availability of the PPARγ and PPARα proteins allows cells to better attach insulin and receive glucose more appropriately.

The trick however, is that stimulating these two proteins pharmaceutically also typically comes with stimulating the proliferation – expansion – of fat cells, among other ill effects, such as heart disease.

This is in fact one of the issues for the popular diabetes drug Rosiglitazone, along with other side effects. For this reason, the drug – branded as Avandia by GlaxoSmithKline – has been the subject of several panel recommendations – including the European Medicines Agency – to take the drug off the market. Reports have estimated the drug causes up to 500 heart attacks and 300 heart failures a month in the U.S.

Meanwhile, medicinal plants such as Haritake have no known negative side effects to their ability to decrease insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation. Haritake is part of the famous Ayurvedia trifecta known as Trifala – which has been used in Ayurveda as a digestive aid and blood sugar regulation agent.

Research from China’s Sichuan University confirmed this last year when it found Terminalia chebula fruits able to reduce and balance blood sugar levels.

And new research from Italy has found the Haritake’s polyphenol content make it anticarcinogenic to boot.

Written by Case Adams, Naturopath


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Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.