Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chinese Herbs that Actually Help Type 2 Diabetics: Coptis

Coptis is a Chinese herb that tastes terrible but that is highly likely to help you lower blood sugar levels, triglyceride levels, and keep your arteries healthy. This extraordinarily nasty tasting "detoxifying" herb is often brewed into a tea to be drunk three times a day, but when the herb is appropriate, the taste of the herbal medicine is greatly outweighed by the herbal benefits.

Coptis, also known by its botanical name, Coptidis chinensis, and as goldenthread or  huang lian, is familiar to herbalists as a source of berberine. While the herb has been used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for at least 2,500 years, most of what science knows about the way the herb works is from studies of berberine in the laboratory.

  • Stops some inflammatory processes,
  • Prevents damage to the lining of blood vessels caused by high blood sugars,
  • Blocks protein loss in muscle, and
  • Reduces insulin resistance caused by high-fat diet.
All of these benefits are strongly indicated in lab studies. Precisely how coptis works in the human body under clinical conditions is a different matter. Studies in China, where coptis is a common treatment for type 2 diabetes, have found that the berberine in coptis has some advantages over insulin. The most troubling issue for most type 2 diabetics who use drugs that increase insulin production or who take insulin is that insulin doesn't just help store sugar, it also helps store fat. The berberine in coptis moves sugar out of the bloodstream, but it does not also transport fat.

And unlike Actos and Avandia, berberine does not stimulate the creation of new fat cells. One clinical trial in China found coptis (which is the source of berberine) to as useful as Actos, Avandia, and metformin for lowering blood sugar levels.

Should you run out and buy coptis, or related herbs such as barberry, goldenseal, or Oregon grape root? Should look for an online source of the classic Chinese diabetes detox Huang Lian Jie Du Tang or "berberine capsules?'While these herbs will probably help lower your blood sugar levels, they can also cause a "colicky" reaction if you have colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Women should not use them when pregnant or breastfeeding. The effects on blood sugar levels are not likely to be tremendous, but coptis usually can help type 2 diabetics keep blood sugar levels in control without gaining weight.

Selected Reference:

Affuso F, Mercurio V, Fazio V, Fazio S. Cardiovascular and metabolic effects of Berberine. World J Cardiol. 2010 Apr 26;2(4):71-7.

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