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Gymnema, also commonly referred to as gymnema sylvestre, is an herb that grows in south central India, where it was first used in naturopathy or alternative medicine for its potential health benefits. Due to its effects on how the body reacts to and regulates sugar, many believe that this herb can have a positive effect on diabetes and obesity, as well as other conditions. It may also help with digestion.
The strongest active components of the plant are called gymnemic acids, taken from either the leaves or root. The acids affect two particular areas of the body. First, they can permeate the taste buds on the tongue that detect sweet flavors. As the acids are digested, they act on the surface of the intestines. In both places, the herb is able to help decrease the intake of sugars.
By inhibiting sugar absorption, gymnema could help to lower and regulate blood sugar levels, and it is used widely as a supplement for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The herb has also demonstrated the ability to aid the body’s production of insulin. This may be because it can stimulate the growth of cells in the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin. The extract is not recommended by many professionals as a treatment on its own, yet it can be taken in conjunction with insulin or other diabetes medications.
Gymnema may also promote weight loss. When the herb blocks the taste buds that detect the sweet sensation, sugar cravings or a “sweet tooth” may be curbed. Supplements are available and commonly taken with meals because they may help the body process dense carbohydrates and sugars that would otherwise be stored as fat.
The herbal extract has been used for a wide variety of further health benefits. Digestion may improve when taking the herb because of its effects on the absorptive lining of the intestines, blocking foods that may cause some people to experience indigestion. Furthermore, the extract can work as a diuretic, helping to dispel excess water, and as a laxative. In India, gymnema has been used topically to treat snakebites as well.
Sufficient testing on gymnema has not yet been done, and one should consult a physician before taking the supplement regularly, as allergies or problems during pregnancy or breastfeeding could occur. Those who already take medications for diabetes should keep in mind that gymnema can accumulate in the body, and blood sugar levels could get too low as a result. Those needing surgery should stop taking the herb at least two weeks prior, as the effect on blood sugar levels could cause problems.