Herbal Support For Diabetes



Cheryl Hoard



There are quite a few herbs which support proper blood sugar levels as well as soothe other symptoms or related conditions of diabetes.


Lapacho, also known as Pau D’Arco a famous rain forest herb, has reportedly been used successfully for diabetes. While not citing any research studies for this condition, Daniel Mowrey in Herbal Tonic Therapies, states that great quantities of Lapacho tea have been used medicinally by native Indians in many South American countries for thousands of years. What has been validated by modern research is that Lapacho offers anticancer, antioxidant, analgesic, antimicrobial/ antiparasitic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory effects. One additional interesting quality of Lapacho, apparent in traditional and scientific reports, is that Lapacho counteracts many of the common side effects of chemical medicines. Quite an amazing herb!


Studies have shown Bilberry’s ability to reduce blood sugar levels, confirming its similar traditional/folk use. It has a multi-purpose use for this condition because studies show it to be beneficial on disorders of vessels in the conjunctiva of diabetic and pre-diabetic patients with tendencies toward glaucoma and stimulation of peripheral circulation. The anthocyanoside myrtillin, found in Bilberry leaves and fruit, has been indicated to improve collagen integrity, capillary fragility and reduce serum cholesterol triglyceride levels. Some studies have not been able to confirm this cholesterol-lowering effect, however these anthocyanosides were able to significantly impede the development of atherosclerosis. In Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno state that hundreds of tons of bilberries are processed annually for use as an anti-haemorrhagic agent in the treatment of eye diseases including diabetic retinopathy.


Ginseng, in its different varieties, has been studied greatly the world over. The list is long of the myriad benefits medical science attributes to this incredible root, confirming the long history of folk use. Research indicates that it regulates blood sugar levels and improves circulation. It can be used as a general tonic and for specific purposes. The ginsenosides contained in this herb are usually credited for many of its actions but they are devoid of hypoglycemic action which places importance on using extracts made of the whole root and not just laboratory concocted isolated ginsenoside type products. What baffles the scientific world is that Ginseng balances blood sugar only in individuals who need such an action. Since Ginseng is so remarkably beneficial on many other aspects of human health and used widely the world over by people not suffering from diabetes, it is another example of the unexplainable wisdom of the plant kingdom to aid our bodies in a flexible and compatible way. Because it also has an ability to decrease atherosclerosis, makes Ginseng even more suitable support for the treatment of diabetes.


Pfaffia, also known as Suma, is a nutritious root found in South American rain forests. Natives of the region where Pfaffia grows call it “Para Todo” which means “for (the healing of) all things”. It is also commonly known as “Brazilian Ginseng” even though it is not related to the Asian or American varieties. As with all tonic, alterative or balancing herbs, it is considered a powerful restorative and also packed with a huge variety of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It’s very special properties are attracting much interest from scientists around the world. Based on results on file with many hospitals and clinics throughout South America, Switzerland, Britain and on research conducted in Japan, Pfaffia has shown effectiveness in the treatment of diabetes, especially in the young. For doctors and scientists not very familiar with herbal medicine, it is bewildering the overall, far reaching and holistic effect these tonic herbs can have. Whatever they can find under a microscope does not explain the overall sense of well-being people experience with this herb. It is reported that people have a feeling of well-being even before their actual ailment begins to show improvement. For diabetes however simply put by Research Herbalist, Amanda McQuade, the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin are out of order. Pfaffia restores them through its normalizing action.


There are various other herbs I found briefly mentioned in my search for information about this condition. Some of these herbs were attributed to blood sugar regulation and many were found to be helpful for other conditions caused by diabetes. Studies done on Agrimony showed it retarded the development of streptozotocin diabetes in mice. Astragalus is often mentioned by authorities citing instances in the considerable research conducted on this Chinese herb. Burdock has also shown experimentally to lower blood sugar levels. Two double-blind studies investigated a cream product based on external use of Cayenne showing significant pain relief for diabetics suffering from nerve pain or neuropathy. Varro Tyler states in Herbs of Choice that effective use of the cream requires application 4 or 5 times daily for a period of at least 4 weeks. French researchers found that Fenugreek reduced both blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. According to Michael Murray in The Healing Power of Herbs, Onion shows significant blood sugar lowering action, comparable to prescription drugs. He goes on to include Garlic as another common herb that reduces blood glucose. Milk Thistle is widely known, after much research, to have a strong beneficial effect on the liver. According to Murray, in one follow-up study of patients including diabetics with liver damage, Milk Thistle demonstrated striking results. There was remarkable tissue restorative effects even in severely damaged livers. In diabetic retinopathy, Ginkgo Biloba demonstrated protective action for free radical damage to the retina in experimental studies and has been shown to prevent diabetic retinopathy in chemically induced diabetic rats, suggesting that it may have a protective effect on human diabetes.


Herbal medicine is never the total answer to health problems. At the very least herbs may be able to reduce the amount of prescription drugs needed for the various discomforts and degenerating aspects of diabetes. These chemical medicines do have side effects that can last a lifetime. Herbs on the other hand, gentle in their actions, have far reaching beneficial effects that can also last a lifetime. Herbs will always give the best results when incorporated into a holistic health approach. Body, mind and spirit must be considered as a whole. It is one’s whole being that is involved with the health problem. Acknowledging and using the whole being is the key to overcoming or managing the condition. Aspects of health management like diet, exercise, using herbs actually bring more spiritual awareness. Recognizing your spirituality is likely to beneficially influence your diet and exercise habits. All of these aspects of the whole are intertwined.






Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Astragalus Root Astragalus membranaceus

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Bilberry Leaf & Fruit Vaccinium myrtillus

More data about the leaf needs to be collected and evaluated before any conclusion is made about any significant side effects. Fruit is safe to consume when used appropriately.


Burdock Root Arctium lappa

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Cayenne Capsicum annum

Internal use: Excessive doses may cause GI irritation in sensitive individuals. External use: Contraindicated on injured skin or near eyes. Continued use on same area may cause damage to sensitive nerves. Some authorities feel it should not be applied externally only for 2 days with 14 days in-between. Some authorities cite studies where continuous use was necessary to be effective. These studies did not conclude there was any harm in more extended use.


Fenugreek Seed Trigonella foenum-graecum

Avoid during pregnancy.


Garlic Alium sativum

Occasional gastrointestinal disturbance in sensitive individuals. Some authorities feel that consumption of fresh garlic in children might be dangerous and possibly contraindicated in pregnancy. The long history of garlic as a food has established it to be safe in reasonable quantities. These warnings may not apply to processed garlic products.


Ginkgo Leaf Ginkgo biloba

Toxic effects are rare and mainly due to overdosage and has been reported to cause dermatitis, irritability, headaches, restlessness, diarrhea, vomiting. Avoid with blood thinning medications.


Ginseng Root (USA) Panax quinquefolius

Regular use can cause mild insomnia so don’t take in evening and at bedtime. Some studies recommend to avoid with hypertension. Many studies actually recommend for hypertension.


Ginseng Root (Chinese) Panax ginseng

Regular use can cause mild insomnia so don’t take in evening and at bedtime. Some studies recommend to avoid with hypertension. Many studies actually recommend for hypertension.


Ginseng Root (Korean) Panax schinseng

Regular use can cause mild insomnia so don’t take in evening and at bedtime. Some studies recommend to avoid with hypertension. Many studies actually recommend for hypertension.


Lapacho Bark (Pau D’Arco) Tabebuia avelleneda

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Milk Thistle Seed Silybum marianum

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Onion Allium cepa

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Pfaffia Root (Suma) Pfaffia paniculata

Safe to consume when used appropriately.




Balch, James F. and Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group. 1997.

Blumenthal, Mark., et al Ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin: American Botanical Council. 1998.

McGuffin, Michael, et al Ed. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 1997.

Mowrey, Daniel B. Herbal Tonic Therapies. New Canaan: Keats Publishing Co. 1993.

Murray, Michael T. and Pizzorno, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. 1991.

Murray, Michael T. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. 1991.

Tyler, Varro E. Herbs of Choice. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press. 1994.

Weiner, Michael A. and Janet A. Weiner. Herbs That Heal. Mill Valley: Quantum Books. 1994.

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