( Gymnema sylvestre )
As a native tree of Africa and
India, gymnema leaves have the remarkable ability to block out certain taste
sensations, especially sweetness. It is an extremely popular herb in Japan
and is included in formulas for diabetes, hypoglycemia and weight loss. A
member of the milkweed family, relative species are widely scattered in
tropical areas of both hemispheres. most of the species consists of twiny
shrubs or perennial herbs which are erect and have weedy, tuberous roots.
Several bioactive compounds are
found in this species including gymnemin, astringents, tannin and bitter
Traditional rain forest use
Hindus named this herb gurmar,
meaning sugar destroyer. Chewing the leaves of this plant helps to block the
ability to sense sweetness and the practice of chewing gymnema leaves was
popular in both Africa and India. After chewing gymnema leaves, eating white
sugar would be like eating a completely tasteless granulated substance. In
traditional Ayurvedic medicine, gymnema was used to treat blood sugar
disorders like diabetes.
Modern medicinal applications
While no scientific studies exist
that completely explain how the bitter compounds contained in gymnema work,
they most likely increase the action of insulin in both its secretion and
cell reception. This particular mechanism would be very beneficial to
diabetics who build up a resistance to insulin over time. This herb is
currently recommended for diabetes, fatigue, hypoglycemia, obesity, and
Modern research has found the
gymnemic acid, the active ingredient of this herb, blocks sugar absorption
in the body. A clinical study published in 1986 suggests that extract of
gymnema can significantly enhance liver and pancreatic function.
Diabetics should check with their
physician before using this herb.