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Herbs & Botanicals

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Gymnema (gymnema sylvestre)

What is gymnema?

Gymnema is a woody, climbing plant similar to ivy. It is native to India, and plays a vital role in the preparation of several ayurvedic formulas. Gymnema's Hindu name is gurmar, which means "destroyer of sugar." It is called as such because its leaves, when chewed, interfere with the ability to taste sweetness. The leaves are used medicinally.

Why do we need gymnema? What is it used for?

In the past, powdered gymnema root was used to treat a variety of complaints, ranging from snake bites and constipation to stomach ailments, water retention, and liver disease. Gymnema has also been used in folk medicine as a remedy for allergies, urinary tract inflections, anemia, hyperactivity, digestion, cholesterol, and weight control.

Currently, gymnema is known primarily for its sugar-blocking properties. It is used to treat high blood sugar in diabetics and has been promoted as a weight loss remedy. Studies conducted in India during the 1990s found that powdered gymnema leaves could reduce blood sugar levels in both Type I and II diabetics. While those results appear promising, more research is needed to confirm gymnema's benefits.

How much gymnema should I take?

The India trials conducted in the 1990s used a water-soluble extract of 400mg per day. The typical dose of gymnema is 2-4 grams per day of powdered leaf. An herbal tea can prepared by pouring one cup (240 ml) of boiling water over the powered leaves. The mixture is covered and steeped for 10-15 minutes. The tea is strained before it is consumed.

What forms of gymnema are available?

Gymnema is available in powder, capsule and extract forms.

What can happen if I take too much gymnema? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

When taken at the amounts suggested, gymnema is generally considered safe and devoid of side-effects. However, it cannot be used in place of insulin to control blood sugar by people with either Type I or II diabetes, and should be used to lower blood sugar only under the supervision of a licensed health care professional. It should not be used by women who are pregnant or lactating.

Gymnema may interact with the blood sugar control drugs glipizide, minodiab and glyburide. As always, make sure to consult with a qualified health care provider before taking gymnema or any herbal product or dietary supplement.

References

  • Bishayee A, Chatterjee M. Hypolipidemic and antiatherosclerotic effects of oral Gymnema sylvestre R. Br. leaf extract in albino rats fed on a high fat diet. Phytother Res 1994;8:118–20.
  • Diabetes: herbal remedies that may help control blood sugar. In: The Complete Natural Health Reference Guide. Discovery Health (http://www.discoveryhealth.com).
  • Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1997.
  • Reitchenberg-Ullman J. Can you just say no to sugar? Healthworld Online (http://www.healthworldonline.com), January 17, 2001.
  • Squier TBB, Peden LD. Herbal Folk Medicine. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

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