Efforts to cure or stop type 1 diabetes are still in the early stages, and these approaches will also not be suitable for people that have already lost their insulin-producing cells. A solution could be the creation of an “artificial pancreas” — a fully automated system that can measure glucose levels and inject the right amount of insulin into the bloodstream, just like a healthy pancreas would.
Known as gurmar, or “sugar destroyer,” in Aryuvedic medicine, Gymnema has consistently shown benefits in patients with diabetes. The most active part of Gymnema seems to be gymnemic acids, and many products list the percentage each capsule contains. Analyses of the herb for diabetes have shown it may be helpful in lowering high blood sugar levels. It can delay glucose absorption from the intestine. It was shown to regenerate pancreatic tissues, allowing more insulin to be produced, and help regulate insulin secretion. It also increases the utilization of glucose by the cell, reducing insulin resistance and decreasing appetite, especially for sweets. I usually use it in capsules, or in liquid form in some patients. Due to Gymnema having a very similar shape to glucose, it can fit into the taste bud receptors for sugar; it thus has unbelievable power to actually prevent the taste of sweets in the mouth for up to 1.5 hours. When I have a patient who is still struggling to not eat cake and cookies and so forth at parties or celebrations (or just in general), I will give her a tincture of Gymnema sylvestre. This is one of my favorite herbs for diabetes. In capsule form doses of 400 to 2,400 mg a day are recommended.
But is John “free of diabetes”? This is where the lines become blurred. Medically speaking, the term “cure” is usually associated with acute disease—a temporary medical condition, such as bacterial pneumonia, that can be cured with antibiotics. For diabetes, which is a chronic disease, it may be more accurate to use the term “remission” rather than cure. Particularly when considering the pathology associated with diabetes and the individual’s genetic predisposition, relapse is always possible. In a consensus statement issued by the ADA, the term remission is defined based on the following definitions:2
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test indicates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. It measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. The higher your blood sugar levels, the more hemoglobin you'll have with sugar attached. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates you have diabetes. A result between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetes, which indicates a high risk of developing diabetes. Normal levels are below 5.7 percent.
One of the most studied programs in the National Institutes of Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). This program helps people who have pre-diabetes or a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes lose weight. Studies of the program have found that those who lost about seven percent of their initial weight, kept some of it off, and maintained an exercise program delayed the onset of type 2 diabetes for three years in 58% of cases.
But a prescription doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It may be that, through weight loss and physical activity, you can reduce your risk of diabetes, or prevent it from occurring. "The only evidence-based treatment that can 'cure' diabetes is weight-loss surgery,” says Gupta, “but weight loss in overweight or obese type 2 diabetes patients certainly helps with decreasing drugs.”
In the picture to the right you can see the lunch that I was unbelievably served at the 11th International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm 2010. This is a major international conference for obesity doctors and scientists. The food contains almost exclusively energy from sugar and starches, things that are broken down to simple sugars in the stomach.
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Despite these encouraging results, Vulksan cautions that it's too early for diabetic patients to rely on ginseng. Herbs sold in this country are not standardized, he says, so it's difficult to know for certain what you're buying and impossible to ensure consistent dosages. Besides, his study looked only at American ginseng, and he's not certain the results would hold true for the seven other varieties. What's more, researchers haven't conclusively identified ginseng's active ingredients.
Oral diabetes medications may also come in combination tablets such as Metaglip (glipizide/metformin), Prandimet (repaglinide/metformin), Glucovance (glyburide/metformin), Janumet (sitagliptin/metformin), Avandamet (rosiglitazone/metformin), Avandaryl (rosiglitazone/ glimepiride), Duetact (pioglitazone/glimepiride), Actoplus Met (pioglitazone/metformin).
You might hear of alternative or complementary treatments, such as herbal remedies and vitamin or mineral supplements. Although research continues into their possible benefits, studies thus far haven't proved their effectiveness. They also could be dangerous for kids and teens with type 1 diabetes, especially if used to replace medically recommended treatments. Talk to the diabetes health care team if you have questions.
Aside from the financial costs of diabetes, the more frightening findings are the complications and co-existing conditions. In 2014, 7.2 million hospital discharges were reported with diabetes as a listed diagnosis. Patients with diabetes were treated for major cardiovascular diseases, ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower-extremity amputation and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Joseph, you should talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about this. In general, you can take metformin with most herbs, but your case might be different, and you might not need to. You might have to experiment. The same with insulin, although you have to be more careful there — in all cases you should work with your doctor or diabetes educator.
Despite the encouraging findings, more research will be necessary to confirm that S. oblonga is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes and to determine whether it offers any long-term health benefits. The researchers also want to look into the question of whether or not S. oblonga can prevent type 2 diabetes. They suggested that an extract could be added to a food or beverage for easy use.
That is the goal of Imcyse, a French company running a clinical trial with an immunotherapy designed to stop type 1 diabetes. Patients that have been diagnosed within the last 6 months, who still retain some insulin-producing cells, are given a treatment designed to make the immune system destroy the specific immune cells that are attacking insulin-producing cells. Results are expected later this year and will reveal whether the treatment has the potential to become a cure.