Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre)

Gymnema is a woody, vinelike plant in the milkweed family that has a most peculiar affect.  When you chew on it, it blocks the taste of sugar.  It's a wierd sensation to put sugar in your mouth and have it taste like "sand" or to put chocolate in your mouth and have it taste like "mud," but that's pretty much what gymnema will do to you. I once worked on creating a gymnemia based herbal formula for children to help kill sugar cravings and after tasting it we sampled a variety of candies and were amazed at how they tasted sour or bitter or even bland without the taste of sugar.

Gymnema has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat diabetes and diet-related disease for at least 2,000 years. In fact its name in Hindu is "Gurmar," which literally means "Sugar Destroyer." The overconsumption of refined sugar has been linked with many diseases, including obesity, hypoglycemia, diabetes, allergies, hyperactivity, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and anemia; the list of secondary effects and disorders is even longer.

Of course, like most other herbs, nobody fully understands how Gymnema works. But what most researchers agree on is that it blocks the desire for sugar by blocking our ability to taste sweetness. The best explanation as to how it does this is that its molecular structure resembles that of sugar and that these molecules actually fill the sweet receptor sites on the tongue for one to two hours and block any sugar from entering them. This results in a decreased desire for sugar and a diminished appetite in general. Even when sugar is eaten, the suppression of the sweetness causes less of it to be eaten.

But there’s even more good news with Gymnema. Researchers have recently established that it doesn’t just block the sweet receptors on the taste buds of the mouth. It has the same action on the cells in the intestines which are responsible for absorbing sugar into the bloodstream.

The receptor sites on these cells are apparently also blocked, meaning that Gymnema also reduces the amount of sugar entering our systems when we do eat sugar. As a result it also stabilizes blood sugar and diminishes our need for insulin—good news for people struggling with diabetes or hypoglycemia.

But published studies have pointed to yet another beneficial effect of Gymnema. It has been shown to significantly increase pancreatic and liver functions, meaning it can help return diminshed enzyme levels in those organs to normal.

In an article published in Let’s Live Magazine Betty Kamen, Ph.D. comments on the significance of the way gymnema does this. She makes the point that in this respect gymnema works as an adaptogenic herb, with a “relatively mild, normal action(s), resembling the behavior of natural, adaptogenic remedies, instead of the concentrated effects of most drugs.”

She notes the important distinction between how an herb like gymnema does this and the function of most pharmaceutical medications: “Drugs continue to work even after a state of normalcy is achieved. An adaptogen works until a biological function is normal, then stops its action.”

So, gymnema gives us yet another example of the way that herbs can function more safely and effectively than the concentrated, isolated chemicals extracted from plants or synthetically produced for use in pharmaceuticals.

Gymnema is an ingredient in Nature’s Sunshine's Ayurvedic Blood Sugar formula and SugarReg® product. For an interesting read, check out the article in the references below entitled The Pill That Seriously Kills Your Sweet Tooth.  The author, Francis Lam, describes the taste of many common foods after taking gymnema, including milk, apples, oranges, Coca-Cola, Sprite, chocolate bars and ice cream.

Selected References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnema_sylvestre
The Pill That Seriously Kills Your Sweet Tooth by Francis Lam