GYMNEMA (a.k.a. Gurmar, Shardunika) (Gymnema sylvestre)

Family: Asclepiadaceae

Parts commonly used: Leaf.

Properties/energetics: Antidiabetic, hypoglycemic/Bitter.

Systems predominantly affected:  Digestive (tongue, intestines, pancreas).

Uses: Ayurvedic physicians observed that when a few leaves of Gymnema were chewed, sweet foods no longer tasted sweet; they became tasteless. They named the plant “sugar destroyer.” Recent clinical trials have shown that an extract of Gymnema is useful for controlling blood sugar levels and has a regenerative effect on pancreatic beta cells while curbing a person’s craving for sweets. The distinctive action of Gymnema acts on two body sites: the tongue’s taste buds and the absorptive surface of the intestines. (The structure of taste buds that detect sugar in the mouth is nearly identical to the structure of the tissue that absorbs sugar in the intestine.) Gymnema contains an organic acid (gymnemic acid) whose molecular arrangement is similar to that of glucose molecules. When taken orally, gymnemic acid molecules fill the receptor sites on the taste buds for about one to two hours, preventing the taste buds from being activated by any sugar molecules; sweet flavor is literally obliterated. Similarly, Gymnema’s glucose-mimicking molecules fill the receptor sites in the absorptive external layers of the intestine, preventing it from absorbing sugar molecules. It suppresses the taste of sweet foods and the desire to eat them. (For the next couple hours following Gymnema’s contact with your tongue, a bite of scrumptious nine-layer German chocolate cake becomes extremely disappointing— depressing, in a way.) Later, if you went ahead and ate the slice of cake anyway, which you probably wouldn’t have, Gymnema would significantly reduce the metabolic effects of all that ingested sugar by preventing the intestines from absorbing a major proportion of the sugar molecules during the process of digestion. This action elicits a major change in a person’s blood sugar level. Differing from the rapid effect of many prescription hypoglycemic drugs, Gymnema’s leaves, by means of a healthy gradual action, raise insulin levels by regenerating and revitalizing the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. At the same time, it improves the uptake of glucose into cells by increasing the activity of glucose-utilizing enzymes, which ultimately reduces blood sugar levels by preventing adrenaline from stimulating the liver to produce glucose. Gymnema’s energetics have promising results for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes by successfully controlling blood sugar level without reducing it below normal blood sugar levels, providing a simple, inexpensive, effective method to help maintain healthy glucose levels. The leaves are also noted for decreasing serum cholesterol and triglycerides.

Affects on specific body types: Gymnema is an effective herb for any person who finds it difficult to control his sweet tooth, who binges on sweets and runs the risk of damaging his health with excessive sugar consumption, or who’s seeking an effective aid for weight control. Its molecular structure can block absorption of up to 50 percent of dietary sugar calories. Overall, this herb is a prime tonic for the Monarch constitutional type (and quite specific for the effects of binge eating of sweets by Seer types). As suggested above, Gymnema is a safe and effective herbal tonic that can assist those who find themselves experiencing insulin resistance, whose blood sugar remains high and therefore gain weight no matter what their diet, and for those who are experiencing hypoglycemia or type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Gymnema contains no addictive components and can be taken for extended periods. (Note: Gymnema also takes away the bitter taste of bitter substances in much the same way it affects the sweetness of sweet foods, but it has no appreciable affect on salty, spicy, astringent, and sour tastes.)

Precautions: If taken with other antidiabetic agents, blood sugar levels must be monitored closely to avoid blood sugar levels dropping below normal.

Preparations/dosage: Dried, powdered leaf: (a) To abolish the taste of sugar and to ultimately suppress and neutralize the craving for sweets, place a pinch of powder on the tongue. This effect will last for one to two hours. (For your initial experience, first taste something sweet, then put a pinch of Gymnema powder (or a couple drops of extract) on your tongue, slosh it around in your mouth, then taste the same sweet thing again.) (b) To reduce blood sugar levels after sugar consumption, take 300 to 400 milligrams with meals. (c) To decrease blood sugar levels and insulin requirements with type 1 diabetes, take 300 to 400 milligrams daily for at least three to four weeks for benefits to be experienced. Can be taken anywhere between six months and two years to experience the full range of benefits for which Gymnema is being taken. Individual results vary, depending on the nature and extent of the condition.

By James Green, Herbalist, copyright 2008

For more information please refer to James Green’s book, The Male Herbal, 2nd Edition