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More than 1200 plant compounds have been tested for their ability to lower blood sugar levels. Many have been found to contain chemical components that have hypoglycemic activity (the ability to lower blood sugar) when tested in test tubes or in animal models. However, there is very little research on such compounds using human subjects, and what research does exist is generally not of high quality.

A few herbal remedies for diabetes have been tested in humans and have been found to have mild blood-sugar-lowering properties.

Bitter melon

Also called bitter gourd, bitter cucumber, balsam pear, karela, and charantin, bitter melon is the most widely used traditional remedy for diabetes. It is commonly used in Asia, especially in India, and in Africa. Bitter melon is frequently eaten as a vegetable and looks like a misshapen, bumpy cucumber. As a treatment for diabetes, it is typically the juice or an extract of the unripe fruit that is used. Dried or powdered forms of bitter melon are not believed to have the same activity.

Several compounds have been isolated from bitter melons that are believed to be responsible for its blood-sugar-lowering properties. These include charantin and an insulin-like protein referred to as polypeptide-P, or plant insulin. It is believed that bitter melon acts on both the pancreas and in non-pancreatic cells, such as muscle cells.


Fenugreek is a common spice that in small concentrations is categorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as "Generally Recognized As Safe." Its seeds or a defatted powder made from the seeds have been used as a treatment for diabetes. Fenugreek is one of the better-researched herbal treatments for diabetes; with both human and animal studies suggesting it has hypoglycemic activity. There is also research suggesting that fenugreek may improve blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in the blood. High levels are thought to increase the risk of heart disease.)


Gymnema sylvestre leaf has been used as a traditional treatment for diabetes in India. Because chewing the leaf decreases the sensitivity of taste buds to sweet tastes, gymnema has also been called gurmar, which means "sugar destroyer." This effect is reported to last several hours. In people who have had extracts of gymnema applied to their tongue, this decrease in sensitivity to sweets caused a short-term decrease in food consumption. There are no studies that look at the long-term effects of gymnema on appetite, and it is unlikely that consuming gymnema in a capsule or pill would have the same effect.

The active ingredient in gymnema is believed to be a mixture of molecules called gymnemic acids. You may see gymnemic acids listed on the labels of herbal supplements marketed to people with diabetes. Gymnema is believed to act by improving the function of pancreatic beta cells (the cells in the body that make insulin). Gymnema may also decrease glucose absorption from food and improve the ability of the body to use glucose for energy.

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