Diabetes is a very common condition today. Many of you reading this post probably know someone with diabetes or may experience it yourselves. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that 29.1 million people in the USA (or 9.3% of the population) have diabetes. Ninety to ninety-five percent of these cases are Type 2 diabetes. It costed the US population $245 BILLION dollars in 2012 (3). It is for this reason, and many others, that herbal supports are an excellent way to consider managing your diabetes. The purpose of this post is to give a brief overview of diabetes and begin an exploration of some potentially helpful botanicals and herbal treatments for individuals with diabetes. A recipe for herbal tea follows at the end of this post.
The full name for the condition is diabetes mellitus - the word diabetes come from a Greek word meaning to siphon through and mellitus comes from a Latin word that means sweet. This meaning references one symptom of diabetes, Glucosuria, which is when there is glucose aka "sugar" in the urine. When you hear the terms "blood sugar" or "sugar" in relation to diabetes, glucose is the particular form of sugar being discussed. Our bodies need glucose to supply us energy. Foods that we eat get broken down into glucose which gets transported in the blood to our bodies cells. However, in order for the glucose to enter our cells a hormone, produced by the pancreas, called insulin is needed. Think of insulin as a key that unlocks a door to let the glucose into our cells. When someone has diabetes the glucose is not able to be used properly by the body even though it is present in the bloodstream. This can happen because the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or because the insulin (key) is unable to open the "door" to the cells.
Here are some differences between type one and type two diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes:
- Onset more common in childhood/youth
- Pancreas beta cells destroyed – no insulin is produced
Type 2 Diabetes:
- Onset more common after the age of 20
- Beta Cells active – insulin is produced but there is insulin resistance
- If diabetes is not controlled properly it can lead to beta cells in pancreas being destroyed and less insulin being produced
Factors that increase diabetic risk:
- Genetic factors: if both your parents have diabetes your risk of developing is 75% compared to 15% if only one parent has diabetes
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor diet and/or excess body weight
Diagnosis for Diabetes
There are a few tests to evaluate blood sugar and determine if someone has diabetes or is at risk for developing diabetes (this is sometimes called per-diabetes). The Fasting Blood Glucose test is done by testing blood after someone has not taken anything but water in for 8 hours. A1C measures the average glucose present in the bloodstream over the past few months. This is done by measuring what percentage of the hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carry oxygen, in your blood is "sugar coated". The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test is a two hour test that is done by measuring the blood glucose levels before and after consuming a special drink. Having higher numbers than average on any of these tests may lead to a diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes. A diagnosis for diabetes occurss when you have fasting blood glucose greater than 126 mg/dl (normal under 100), A1C greater than 6.5% (normal under 5.7%, and an oral glucose tolerance test greater or equal to 200mg/dl (normal under 140).
Common Symptoms of Diabetes include the following:
- Polyuria – frequent urination
- Polydipsia – excessive thirst
- Glucosuria – glucose in the urine
- Rapid weight loss
- Excessive hunger
- Slow healing from wounds
- Blurry vision
Herbal Healing Options
There are many treatment options for individuals with diabetes. Patient education, exercise and diet play an important role here. In addition pharmaceuticals and herbal medicines may be useful. Here are three botanicals to consider when working with diabetes.
- Other names: Astragulus membranaceus, Milk Vetch, Radix Astraguali, Radix Astragalus
- Botanical Family: Fabacea aka Pea family.
- Parts used: Roots.
- Active constituents: Polysaccharides, Saponins and Flavanoids (5)
- What it does: Astragulus reduces fasting blood glucose. It also increases insulin sensitivity, and reduces lipids in the blood.
- Dosage suggestion: Tea – 2tsp root 16oz water to drink 3 cups per day. Tincture 40-60 drops 3x/day (2)
- Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Put the dried slices in soup at the start of cooking (you can strain out before serving!). You can also add Astragulus powder to oatmeal, tea, lattes, coffee, baked treats. You can even put a stick in your water bottle.
- Contraindications: Do not use with opiates (3)
- Other Names: Cinnamomum spp., Sweetwood
- Botanical Family: Lauraceae aka the Laurel family
- Parts used: Inner bark.
- What it does: Cinnamon reduces fasting blood glucose (8); it delays gastric emptying and reduces postprandial blood glucose levels (10, 12). Cinnamon also decreases insulin resistance (13).
- Dosage suggestions: Dosage suggestions are varied in studies, so anywhere from 120mg/day to 6g/day. As a tea, you can add 1 tsp cinnamon chips to 8oz water 3-4x/day (2). As a tincture, take 20-40 drops 3-4x/day (2). Cinnamon may need to be taken for long-term this to see anti-diabetic action (11)
- Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Add cinnamon to your regular tea/coffee. You can put extra cinnamon into your baked goods, add to curries, milk, oatmeal, cocktails, or even water.
- Contraindications: Avoid therapeutic doses in pregnancy (2)
- Other Names: Humulus lupulus
- Botanical Family: Cannabaceae
- Parts used: strobiles (that is, the hops flowers)
- Active constituents: resins, bitter compounds
- What it does: Hops helps with the lowering of body weight (15). Hops also helps enhance lipid metabolism (15, 16). It helps improve glucose tolerance (15, 16). Finally, hops reduced insulin resistance (16).
- Dosage suggestion: Tea 2 tsp to 8oz water take 4oz 3-4x/day. Tincture 20-30 drops 3x/day (13).
- Other ways to build this herb into your diet: You can get hops into your diet by drinking beer, especially IPAs which are high in hops. Brew hops into your kombutcha. Add hops to your bitters compounds and cocktails.
- Contraindications: Hops are a sedative, so be mindful of time of day when you take hops. Also, do not use hops if you are on sedative medications like Ambein.
Balanced Blood Sugar Support TeaThis tea is a wonderful daily tea for people suffering with diabetes.
- 4 cups water
- 8 Astragulus slices
- 4 tsp cinnamon chips (if using powder use less)
- 1T fresh ginger diced
References1. Astragalus polysaccharides alleviates glucose toxicity and restores glucose homeostasis in diabetic states via activation of AMPK published by APS
2. Farm at Coventry Student Handbook by Susan Hess
3. Herbalpedia by The Herb Growing and Marketing Network accessed through HerbMentor
4. National Diabetics Statistics Report 2014 by Center for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Recent Advances in Astragalus membranaceus Anti-Diabetic Research: Pharmacological Effects of Its Phytochemical Constituents published by NCBI
6.The effect of Astragalus on PPAR-? mRNA expression in macrophage with Type2 Diabetic Mellitus by Chinese Archives of Traditional Chinese Medicine
7. Effect of Astragalus membranaceus extract on diabetic nephropathy on PubMed
8. Cinnamon extract improves fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin level in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes on PubMed
9. Diverse mechanisms of antidiabetic effects of the different procyanidin oligomer types of two different cinnamon species on db/db mice on PubMed
10. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects on PubMed
11. Changes in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity following 2 weeks of daily cinnamon ingestion in healthyhumans on PubMed
12. The potential of cinnamon to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. On PubMed
13. Herbal Therapeutics by David Winston
14. American Diabetic Association website - diabetes.org
15. Hop (Humulus lupulus)-Derived Bitter Acids as Multipotent Bioactive Compounds by Journal of Natural Products
16. Beer and health: preventive effects of beer components on lifestyle-related diseases. On PubMed.
17. Isohumulones, bitter acids derived from hops, activate both peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha and gamma and reduce insulin resistance. On PubMed
18. Plants Having a Potential Anatidiabetic activity: A Review. By Research Gate.