It is widely accepted that diet and exercise are beneficial in diabetes (see WDDTY vol 3 no 7). But far less is generally known about the use of more exotic foods or herbs to treat the condition. It’s worth stressing that these remedies may help a no

Both onion and garlic are now known to have a very significant ability to lower blood sugar and should be used liberally as part of the normal diet of diabetes sufferers (Ind J Med Res, 1977; 65: 422-29; Quart J Crude Drug Res, 1979; 17: 139-96).

Fenugreek seeds have also been shown to have a similar effect (Eur J Clin Nutr, 1988; 42(1):51-4; Eur J Clin Nutr, 1990; 44(4): 301-6).

The stems of prickly pears (of the Opuntia cactus), or nopal, eaten in Mexico, have the reputation of helping diabetics. In an experimental double blind study, a group of non-insulin patients took 500g of broiled nopal stems. After three hours they experienced a average reduction in glucose of 17 per cent and in insulin, 50 per cent, compared with those taking a placebo (Diabetes Care, 1988, 11:63-6).

Dandelion root, Jerusalem artichokes and burdock root all contain a substance called inulin, which assists in blood sugar control (Am J Clin Nutr, 1990; 52:675-81) and in reducing hyperglycemia and fatigue after starchy meals (Ann Intern Med, 1931; 5: 274-84).

In the Indian sub-continent the bark of sanderswood has long been successfully used in the treatment of diabetes. A flavonoid named epicatechin contained in the bark and an alcoholic extract of Pterocarpus marsupium have been proved able to regenerate functional cells of the pancreas (Lancet, 1981; 2: 759-60; Lancet, 1982;2: 272).

In my own practice, I have very often found that Diacure capsules (a product of France’s Laboratoires Lehning) helps my diabetic patients reduce their insulin requirements by 40 to 45 per cent after about two or three weeks (as recorded by patients with their home glucose monitors). This powdered herbal compound contains dandelion root, barberry, butternut, yarrow, whortleberry (bilberry) leaves and red centaury with some natrium phosphoricum (Enquiries: UK:

NutriCentre, London; Canada: Homeocan, Montreal; US: Enzymatic Therapy, Green Bay, WI 54311).

As for herbal remedies, German herbalist Rudolf Fritz Weiss mentions a home remedy for diabetes used widely as a tea in Europe. It is made in equal parts of whortleberry leaves, bean pods, goat’s rue herb, goat’s rue seed and peppermint leaves. The first four contain substances with insulin like action, called glucokinins (R F Weiss. Herbal Medicine, 1988, A B Arcanum, Gothenburg).

In homeopathy, the seeds or mother tincture of the rose apple (jambul in the US, and Syzygium jambolanum to homeopaths) is a reliable homeopathic remedy (W Boericke, Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica, 9th ed, Boericke & Runyon, 1927).

As far as nutritional management, one or more of the following can be of real benefit in diabetes: chromium, quercetin, pyridoxine, carnitine, omega-6 fatty acids, ascorbic acid, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, manganese, magnesium, biotin, inositol and potassium. A full vitamin and mineral profile will establish which supplements should be taken.

But the most important supplement of all is vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol). There is mounting evidence that raised blood glucose levels produce more free radicals. Vitamin E has been shown to measurably stop the production of free radicals (Diabetes Care,1991;14(1): 68-72). However, only doses of 600-1200mg have this effect; lower doses are ineffective (Am J Clin Nutr, 1993; 58: 412-16).

Vitamin E also helps with circulation of diabetic patients (Diabetes, 1982; 31: 947-51; and 1984; 33: 239-43; Metabolism, 1992; 41(6): 613-21). By lowering free radicals and protecting blood vessel walls, it can also prevent diabetic complications, such as foot ulcers and neuropathy.

Vitamin E can also stabilize blood sugar. In a carefully controlled study, 900mg per day of vitamin E given for four months both lowered free radical production and improved insulin action in non-insulin patients, compared with a group of controls (Am J Clin Nutr, 1993; 57: 650-56).

Under no circumstance should anyone suddenly take him/herself off diabetic drugs, especially insulin. Taking any supplement that will probably affect blood sugar regulation can be potentially dangerous, particularly for any patient needing insulin injections. Such supplements should be tried only under professional direction. According to current informed opinion, an insulin dependent patient will never be able to stop taking insulin altogether.

!AHarald C Gaier

Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homoeopath and osteopath.

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