Gymnema Sylvestre: A Natural Way to Curb Cravings and Balance Blood Sugar
TV, it seems, has its signals crossed.
On one channel you’ll see shows like The Biggest Loser fighting obesity and advocating weight loss through diet and exercise.
But turn the channel and you have Paula Deen whipping up some down-home, deep-fried deliciousness featuring cakes, cupcakes, or other sweet treats. What gives?
The reality is that we as a country are bombarded with mixed messages every day when it comes to food. We want to (and often do!) indulge in the sugary goodness that seems to be on every street corner, vending machine, and cookie jar, and then we lament our expanding waistlines and the growing diabetes epidemic.
No wonder everyone is looking for a magic pill to take off the weight. But what if you could stop the cravings that led to the overeating in a safe and effective way?
Proponents of this herb claim that it does exactly that: stop the weight gain before it even starts. That’s a pretty bold claim, so let’s take a closer look to see if there is any truth to it.
Indian Herb, International Use…
Gymnema sylvestre is an herb from India that has a long and varied history in traditional medicine, including its use as a:
- Circulatory system stimulant
- Diabetes treatment
- Weight loss aid
The herb’s use in weight loss has advocates touting its benefits. Specifically, they claim that Gymnema sylvestre helps to curb your desire for sweets, blocks the absorption of sugar, and helps balance blood glucose levels.
In other words, it not only reduces your desire for that brownie, but should you cave in and eat it, the herb will block the absorption of the sugar and help you keep your blood sugar levels from rising.
That sounds a little too good to be true, so let’s take a look at the research to get the REAL story.
Putting a Halt to the Cravings…
Interestingly, there is real research to support the claim that Gymnema sylvestre helps to curb cravings for sweets.
One animal study from the International Journal of Crude Drug Research1 (yes, that’s really the name!) found that rodents that were fed Gymnema sylvestre leaves exhibited a decreased interest in, and consumption of, sweets.
In another animal study2, rats that were given a Gymnema sylvestre water extract for two weeks exhibited statistically significant weight loss as compared to the control group.
Sure, but then again, rats don’t have access to Ben & Jerry’s and Krispy Kreme like we do. At least we don’t think so! Which begs the question: How does Gymnema sylvestre perform in humans?
A study from Physiology & Behavior3 set out to determine this very point. Researchers tested the effects of Gymnema sylvestre on fasting patients who were of normal weight.
The researchers found that those who were given Gymnema sylvestre one hour before being offered snack foods ate less food and fewer sweet foods than patients who had not consumed Gymnema sylvestre.
This is intriguing; however, we have to wonder if the herb was the reason, or if some other human factor was involved, such as wanting to appear to have more willpower than you actually do. The closet-eater syndrome, if you will. Moreover, it was only one hour later.
We’d love to see a study that looks at these issues in the future.
Help for Type 2 Diabetics…
On the diabetes front, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) state that Gymnema sylvestre has “good scientific evidence” showing that it helps control blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes (when used in conjunction with insulin and other medications as prescribed by a doctor).
One study in particular proves this out4. Twenty-two type-2 diabetics taking conventional oral diabetes medication were also given 400 mg of Gymnema a day for 18 to 20 months.
At the end of the study period, 16 of the 22 participants were able to reduce their medications, while five stopped using them altogether.
This means that the herb not only reduced the amount of medication needed, but in nearly 25 percent of the people, completed negated the need for the drug at all. Now that’s impressive.
How Does It Do That?
Gymnema sylvestre appears to work by suppressing a desire for sugary foods as well as balancing blood sugar levels.
Physiologically speaking, there does seem to be solid evidence that Gymnema sylvestre does lower cravings. The herb contains gymnemic acid,5 a nutrient found in certain plants that have been shown to suppress sweetness.
Additionally, gymnemic acid is molecularly similar to glucose. The theory is that when you consume Gymnema sylvestre, it fills in your taste bud receptors, thereby preventing glucose from docking in those same receptors, thus cutting your craving for sugar and sweets.
Similarly, because gymnemic acid is similar to glucose, Gymnema sylvestre may also lock into glucose receptors in your intestines, thereby preventing the absorption of sugar molecules.6 This would then lead to balanced blood sugar levels even when you consume sugar-based foods.
But What About the “Side Effects?”
Gymnema sylvestre is safe for most people. However, there are few groups of people who should show caution before consuming the herb. These include:
- Women who are pregnant and lactating
- People with milkweed allergies
- People currently taking anti-diabetic medication
- People taking prescription antidepressants
Additionally, St. John’s wort, white willow bark, and aspirin can enhance the blood sugar-lowering effects of Gymnema sylvestre, resulting into hypoglycemia. So, taking Gymnema should be avoided while taking any of those other supplements.
On the plus side, it appears that Gymnema sylvestre may also help keep your cholesterol in check.
Research2 has shown that Gymnema sylvestre significantly improves your ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol, which is one of the most predictive indicators for developing heart disease.
These same researchers also claim the herb also lowers triglycerides and “bad cholesterol.” The National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledge these studies as well, but feel that more research is needed in this area.
We have to agree. In fact, in addition to more studies involving Gymnema sylvestre, we’d also love to see NIH address the issue of inflammation rather than cholesterol as the greatest predictor of heart disease.
The Bottom Line…
While the research surrounding Gymnema sylvestre and weight loss is compelling regarding its ability to cut sweet cravings, its ability to dramatically boost weight loss has yet to be adequately shown.
Therefore, if sweets are your Achilles’ heel, then Gymnema sylvestre may be the boost you need to bolster your willpower.
If you choose to give it a try, the recommended dosage of Gymnema sylvestre is one 100–mg capsule taken three to four times daily. If you prefer the powdered form, aim for 0.5–1 tsp. (2–4 g) per day. You can pour a cup of boiling water over the leaves to make a tea. Cover and steep for 10–15 minutes before drinking.
You may also want to take Gymnema sylvestre with food, as a mild gastrointestinal upset may occur if it is taken on an empty stomach.
Whatever form of Gymnema sylvestre you choose, be sure the product is standardized to a minimum of 25 percent gymnemic acid. (A single 500 mg capsule standardized to 25 percent yields 125 mg of active gymnemic acid per capsule.) Always consider the standardization when taking dosage into account.
It should also be free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally, you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.
Finally, remember that no supplement can overcome a diet filled with doughnuts, pasta, and ice cream. Even if Gymnema sylvestre does help you suppress that candy craving, you will still need to maintain a reasonable caloric intake of nutrient-dense whole foods and engage in moderate daily exercise. And, as always, consult with your doctor before experimenting with any new herbs or supplements.
1Int J Crude Drug Res 86;24[Dec]:171-176.
2Luo, H, et al. “Decreased bodyweight without rebound and regulated lipoprotein metabolism by gymnemate in genetic multifactor syndrome animal.” Mol Cell Biochem. 2007:299(1-2):93-8.
3Brala, PM and Hagen, RL. “Effects of sweetness perception and caloric value of preload on short term intake.” Physiol Behav. 1983 Jan;30(1):1-9.
4Baskaran, K, et al. “Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients.” J Ethnopharmacol. 1990 Oct;30(3):295-300.
5Kurihara Y. “Characteristics of antisweet substances, sweet proteins, and sweetness-inducing proteins.” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1992;32(3):231-52.
6Sahu, N, et al. “Triterpenoid Saponins from Gymnema sylvestre.” Phytochem. 1996;41:1181-85.
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