Pamela Malo, MHS, RD, Arivale Coach
[Arivale Hot Topics address health stories currently in the news. The Arivale Clinical Team’s commentary on these news articles is not a review of the scientific evidence, nor an endorsement of a specific study, and is not meant as official medical opinion.]
Herbal medicines are gaining interest in the treatment of obesity and diabetes due to their often-minimal side effects. Gymnemic acid, an active component of gymnema sylvestre, has been shown in some studies to have anti-obesity and antidiabetic properties. It’s also being claimed as a way to curb sugar consumption.
Gymnema sylvestre is a plant common in Indian and African traditional medicine, where its leaves are most-commonly chewed or used to make tea as a treatment for obesity and diabetes, specifically related to insulin secretion and sensitivity.
Now – as the Washington Post reports – gymnema is widely available online in leaf, tea, or supplement form from a wide list of manufacturers who tout it as a way to reduce sugar cravings. For example, one manufacturer makes a lozenge called “Sweet Defeat” containing 2 mg of gymnema it boasts can “stop sugar cravings in seconds.” Ellie Krieger at the Post tried a Sweet Defeat lozenge halfway through eating a brownie baked by her daughter and found the second half of the treat “tasted like putty” and “was completely unappetizing.”
Some studies have shown the gymnema molecules closely resemble the glucose – or sugar – molecule and may compete for binding sites on the receptors of the tongue that sense “sweet” flavors, blunting the sweet taste.
Preliminary studies in rodents show gymnema reduces sugar absorption in the intestine and increase insulin production. But, the herb lacks adequate clinical studies to determine its safety and efficacy. Because of the lack of data in humans, it’s currently not recommended to treat diabetes and other metabolic disorders, though studies show potential if future clinical trials are able to demonstrate effectiveness.
Sugar cravings are very common in today’s world. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill a person can take to reduce the urge to imbibe in candy, doughnuts, or other sweet treats. Rather, behavior change is key. Because sugar can be addictive and difficult to give up, cognitive-behavioral therapies for reducing cravings may be beneficial.
Meanwhile, diabetes and metabolic disorders are currently best treated through lifestyle interventions, including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean protein and limited in fats, refined sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Regular exercise, stress management, and regular sleep schedules are also important contributing factors in the treatment of diabetes and metabolic disorders.