Complementary therapies investigated to treat Type 2 diabetes - Diabetes UK

Complementary therapies investigated to treat Type 2 diabetes

11 March 2009

Scientists are investigating a range of weird and wonderful complementary therapies that have the potential to help treat Type 2 diabetes.

The roots of a cucumber-like vegetable, a herb found in the forests of India and extracts from the bark of a Himalayan plant are just three of the surprising research subjects being presented at Diabetes UK’s Annual Professional Conference today.

Some plants seem to improve diabetes control

Many cultures have claimed for centuries that plants can be used to treat diabetes. Scientists looking into the relationship between people and plants - the study of ethnobotany - will present findings at the conference in Glasgow on the mechanisms by which some plants seem to improve diabetes control.

Potential for diabetes treatments

“Complementary therapy is an interesting but often understudied area of research for potential diabetes treatments," said Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK.

More research needed

"Although there is still a long way to go before we could say for certain that any of these plants can help to control Type 2 diabetes, it is important to continue investigating the possibilities. More research is needed before we can fully assess their true importance for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes UK's diverse research programme

“Diabetes UK works hard to ensure people with diabetes have a wide choice of high quality treatments for their condition and our diverse research programme reflects this.”

Momordica cymbalaria roots

Scientists testing the effect of a cucumber-like vegetable on Type 2 diabetes control found that extract from the roots of the plant improved glucose tolerance in rats with diabetes.

If this effect could be replicated in humans then it might help to control Type 2 diabetes, a condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body does not produce enough insulin or can not use its insulin properly. Insulin is the hormone needed to turn glucose into fuel for the body.

The vegetable (pictured here) is called Momordica cymbalaria and is similar to an ampalaya (pictured top) which is widely used in India and the Far East and is also known as karela, bitter melon or bitter gourd.

Gymnema sylvestre herb

Another group of researchers examined the effect of Gymnema sylvestre on the body’s ability to produce insulin.

They concluded that extracts from the herb, native to the tropical forests of India, seem to have a direct effect on human insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas.

Swertia chirayita bark

A third group of experts will present their findings on the anti-diabetic activity of the bark of Swertia chirayita, a plant traditionally grown in the Himalayas and also known as chirette.

Their early laboratory work indicates that some compounds extracted from the bark of the plant appear to stimulate insulin production and improve its action.

Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ulster where Swertia chirayita is being investigated, said: “Natural anti-diabetic drug discovery is a key area of research that is attracting a lot of interest.

"More research is needed to establish definitively how and if our findings could be translated into new therapeutic agents for treatments for people with Type 2 diabetes, but we are hopeful that this will one day be the case.”

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