Friday, September 14, 2012

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Diabetes that Actually Works


Chinese herbal medicine is alternately praised and panned for treatment of all kinds of diseases. The problem with Chinese herbal medicine is usually one of two things. People either assume that "if it's an herb, it's good" and take the wrong herb or herbal formula, or they get a product that isn't what it's labeled to be. Fortunately, some Chinese herbs for diabetics not only are generally useful, they are also generally labeled truthfully.


One of these herbs (there are more, but I'll mention them in later posts) is astragalus. 


Actually, astragalus is a genus name for about 200 plants in the bean family. These beans are low growing prairie or pasture plants with rows of leaves that come in pairs. The family contains milk vetch, which is a favorite of grazing milk cows, and a number of plants that are greatly favored by sheep and goats. The plant that is used in traditional Chinese medicine is Astragalus propinquus. It's the plant herbalists are actually referring to when they say "astragalus." In Chinese it's known as huáng qí or "yellow leader." The root is the part that is used in medicine, and it's off-yellow to bright yellow when dried.

The way astragalus helps diabetics is by increasing the production of a hormone known as adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone made in the adipose, or fat, cells. It's an extremely helpful hormone for type 2 diabetics. It slows down the rate at which the liver releases sugar. It stimulates muscle cells to take sugar out of the bloodstream, lowering blood sugar levels. It increases the burning of fat, and it lowers triglycerides.

Astragalus is not the only product available to type 2 diabetics that increases adiponectin levels. The drugs Actos and Avandia do this, too. The difference with astragalus is that it increases adiponectin levels through a different biochemical process, and the herb does not have the side effects that drugs do. And it's enormously less expensive.

I don't sell astragalus (or any other herbs). You can find good brands of astragalus in many herb shops. It's such an inexpensive herb that it's almost always sold unadulterated. Astragalus by itself is not a cure for diabetes, but it may be a great help in treating insulin resistance, and using it may help you get along with smaller doses of Actos or Avandia. Always consult your physician before changing your use of any prescription drug.

One other thing: If you go to a real Chinese herbalist, you aren't likely to be given (it's almost unthinkable you would be given ) just astralagus. Chinese herbal medicine is all about using combinations of herbs for combinations of effects customized to the individual. But if you aren't trained in this kind of medicine, taking the single herb astragalus is a place to start. The proof is in your blood sugar levels, so don't forget to test.

Selected Reference:

Xu A, Wang H, Hoo RL, Sweeney G, Vanhoutte PM, Wang Y, Wu D, Chu W, Qin G, Lam KS. Selective elevation of adiponectin production by the natural compounds derived from a medicinal herb alleviates insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in obese mice. Endocrinology. 2009 Feb;150(2):625-33. Epub 2008 Oct 16

Photo Credit: Dalgial, via Wikimedia Commons.

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