Medicinal herbs for diabetes have been a part of traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Any herb intended as a treatment should focus on lowering blood sugar levels and reducing some of the damaging effects of the disease.
The use of medicinal herbs for diabetes treatment can be an essential addition to the overall management of the disease and should be regarded as a part of a holistic approach that addresses proper nutrition and a good exercise program.
It is important to visit a medical professional for proper diagnosis and the available treatment for the disease.
After a diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed it is important to continue follow-up care, monitor blood glucose levels, and education to ensure the best treatment possible.
8 Common Herbs for Diabetes Treatment
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) has begun to find favor with modern science as one of the more viable herbs for diabetes treatment.
The active ingredient, methyl-hydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP), has been shown to increase the body’s cells’ sensitivity to insulin. This helps improve the efficiency of insulin and increase the conversion of glucose to energy.
It has even been claimed that cinnamon may triple insulin’s efficiency, whether natural or injected.
It also has anti-oxidant properties that help to reduce the damaging effects of diabetes. (1)
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) has been used extensively in traditional medicine for the treatment of diabetes. Its blood sugar lowering capabilities have attracted people with diabetes to these herbal supplements for centuries.
Charantin, one of the active ingredients in bitter melon, has been shown to be a potent hypoglycemic agent. It has similar effects on many hypoglycemic drugs used in diabetes treatment.
Momordica, another active ingredient, has insulin-like effects, further decreasing blood glucose levels. Due to the potent hypoglycemic effect, this supplement should be taken with care when using medications to control diabetes. (2)(3)
Malabar kino (Pterocarpus marsupium) has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for diabetes treatment for a long time. In clinical studies, it has been shown to provide a blood sugar balancing property.
Epicatechin, a flavonoid extracted from the bark of this plant, protects the beta cells in the pancreas from damage that causes a reduction in insulin production.
In studies involving rats, this herbal treatment for diabetes even showed promise in rejuvenating damaged beta cells in the pancreas. This is the only herb, or drug, with this potential. (4)
Gymnema sylvestre has been called the “sugar killer” due to its ability to reduce sweet cravings. Gymnema helps the pancreas with insulin production in type 2 diabetics and increases the sensitivity to insulin in type 1 diabetics.
Some type 2 diabetics have been able to discontinue their use or reduce their dosage, of oral diabetic medications with the use of this supplement (although this is not recommended without consultation with a medical professional.) (5)
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) has strong anti-diabetic properties, as well as triglyceride and LDL cholesterol-lowering effects. It has also been shown to support HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Defatted fenugreek seed powder has been shown in studies to increase glucose tolerance and decrease fasting blood glucose levels after as few as seven days. (6)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has strong hypoglycemic properties and insulin supporting effects, as well. Although not as rapid as bitter melon, the blood sugar lowering effects of this supplement make it an excellent pre-meal supplement to increase glucose tolerance.
Its insulin support also increases the glucose-lowering effect. (7)
Panax ginseng has many health-boosting properties in all individuals. Those with diabetes may benefit from direct blood sugar control, increased insulin secretion and the number of insulin receptors, and an increase in energy.
Panax ginseng has also been shown to support cardiovascular function and support blood vessel health and tone, a common problem for those with diabetes. (8)
Paneer Dodi (Withania coagulans) is effective against diabetes which it has been used for generations in traditional Indian medicine.
Prickly Pear Cactus
The fruit of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) is very high in fiber. It has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used traditionally as a treatment for diabetes, high cholesterol, and hangovers.
Preliminary studies have shown that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. This effect is thought to be due to substances in the fruit that have similar properties as insulin.
More thorough studies are needed though to fully confirm the fruit’s usefulness as a herbal diabetes treatment. (9)
Other Medicinal Herbs for Diabetes
- Bilberry – (Vaccinium myrtillus)
- White Horehound – (Marrubium vulgare)
- Juniper – (Juniperus communis)
- Allspice – (Pimenta dioica)
- Maritime Pine Bark – (Pinus pinaster)
- Black Walnut – (Juglans nigra)
- Milk Thistle – (Silybum marianum)
- Alfalfa – (Medicago sativa)
- Cat’s Claw – (Uncaria tomentosa)
- Andrographis – (Andrographis paniculata)
- Night Blooming Cereus – (Selenicereus grandiflorus)
- Carob – (Ceratonia siliqua)
- Coriander – (Coriandrum sativum)
- American Ginseng – (Panax quinquefolius)
- Artichoke – (Cynara scolymus)
- Chinese Rhubarb – (Rheum officinale)
- Parsley – (Petroselinum crispum)
- Avocado – (Persea americana)
- Chicory – (Cichorium intybus)
- Rhodiola – (Rhodiola rosea)
- Hasanzade, F., Toliat, M., Emami, S. A., & Emamimoghaadam, Z. (2013). The Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose of Type II Diabetes Patients. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 3(3), 171–174. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.114900
- Joseph, B., & Jini, D. (2013). Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease, 3(2), 93–102. doi:10.1016/S2222-1808(13)60052-3
- Ooi C, Yassin Z, Hamid T. Momordica charantia for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD007845. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007845.pub3
- Halagappa, K., Girish, H. N., & Srinivasan, B. P. (2010). The study of aqueous extract of Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb. on cytokine TNF-α in type 2 diabetic rats. Indian journal of pharmacology, 42(6), 392–396. doi:10.4103/0253-7613.71922
- Ulbricht, Catherine & Rae Abrams, Tracee & Basch, Ethan & Davies-Heerema, Theresa & Foppa, Ivo & Hammerness, Paul & Rusie, Erica & Tanguay-Colucci, Shaina & Taylor, Sarah & Varghese, Minney & Weissner, Wendy & Woods, Jen. (2011). An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Gymnema ( Gymnema sylvestre R. Br.) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of dietary supplements. 8. 311-30. 10.3109/19390211.2011.597977.
- Baliga, Shrinath & Louis Palatty, Princy & Ad, Mohammed & Naik, Taresh & Sanjay Kamble, Pratibha & George, Thomas & D’Souza, Jason. (2017). Anti-Diabetic Effects of Leaves of Trigonella foenum-graecum L. (Fenugreek): Leads from Preclinical Studies. Journal of Food Chemistry and Nanotechnology. 03. 67-71. 10.17756/jfcn.2017-039
- Li, Z., Geng, Y. N., Jiang, J. D., & Kong, W. J. (2014). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2014, 289264. doi:10.1155/2014/289264
- Attele, Anoja S. and Zhou, Yun-Ping and Xie, Jing-Tian and Wu, Ji An and Zhang, Liu and Dey, Lucy and Pugh, William and Rue, Paul A. and Polonsky, Kenneth S. and Yuan, Chun-Su; Antidiabetic Effects of Panax ginseng Berry Extract and the Identification of an Effective Component, volume, number 6, pages 1851–1858, 2002, doi 10.2337/diabetes.51.6.1851, American Diabetes Association.
- Del Socorro Santos Díaz, M., Barba de la Rosa, A. P., Héliès-Toussaint, C., Guéraud, F., & Nègre-Salvayre, A. (2017). Opuntia spp.: Characterization and Benefits in Chronic Diseases. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 8634249. doi:10.1155/2017/8634249
Why don’t herbalists specify that there are important differences between herbs that balance blood sugar/insulin levels whether high or low (e.g. fenugreek, dandelion root/leaf, maritime pine bark), and herbs that only lower blood sugar, which is dangerous for chronic hypoglycemia and those times when too much insulin is affecting diabetics?
Ellen Evert Hopman says
Please consult an herbalist before you self-medicate with these plants. For example, it’s dangerous to take goldenseal for a long time unless 10% or less of a formula. And if you are diabetic you will need to monitor your blood sugar constantly as you try the herbs.