July 18, 2007 / 6:06 PM / 12 years ago

Herb may aid diabetes control

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An herb long-used in traditional Indian medicine may help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the herb, called Salacia oblonga, reduced post-meal blood sugar surges in 66 men and women with type 2 diabetes.

Also known as Saptrangi and Ponkoranti, S. oblonga is from a native shrub plant found in the forests of India and Sri Lanka. The roots and stems of the herb are used in Ayurvedic and traditional Indian medicine to treat obesity and diabetes.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, support the results of earlier work that looked at S. oblonga’s blood sugar effects in people without diabetes. And the result suggest that the herb could be used along with diet, exercise and medication to help manage type 2 diabetes, according to the study authors.

The researchers, led by Jennifer A. Williams, are with Columbus, Ohio-based Abbott Laboratories, which has funded previous research on the herb.

For the study, Williams and her colleagues asked participants to drink a high-carbohydrate liquid meal replacement on three separate occasions. On one day they had the meal alone and on another two days they consumed the drink along with a dose of S. oblonga extract, either 240 mg or 480 mg.

On average, the study found, the lower S. oblonga dose decreased participants’ peak blood sugar response by 19 percent, while the higher dose lowered it by 27 percent. Both doses also tempered the normal post-meal increase in insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.

The S. oblonga plant grows in limited areas of Asia and is not widely known in the U.S. Extracts are used in Japan, however, as an ingredient in foods and supplements intended to manage diabetes and obesity.

The herb is thought to work similarly to oral diabetes drugs called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, which impede the body’s absorption of carbohydrates.

S. oblonga, and other substances like it, could be “ideal” nutritional therapies for diabetes, Williams and her colleagues write. People often find it tough to stick with diet restrictions, the researchers note, and a supplement like S. oblonga could allow diabetics to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal without an overly high blood sugar response.

Studies should now look at the herb’s effects on blood sugar control over the long-term, the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2007.

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