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Humorous Herbalist

It seems we have entered that period of the year known as “sugar shock.” Generally, Halloween primes the body for the sweet gorging that occurs during Thanksgiving and then Christmas. It’s capped off on Valentine’s Day when our loved ones ply us with cute little sugar hearts with ink imprints that say “Love Ya!”

By the end of February, our immune systems have descended into “fight mode,” valiantly attempting to resurrect a sense of healthy balance. However, what typically occurs over the next month or so is a breakdown in the body that allows the flu bug to set up shop.

If there was only something natural you could take that made sugar disagreeable to your taste buds and, therefore, limited your intake.



Wait! There is! It’s an Indian herb called Gymnema sylvestre. This popular herb makes sugary snacks and drinks taste pretty bad.

Try this experiment. Bite into a sugar cube and let the sweet flavor linger in your mouth. While you can still taste the sugar, take a sip or two of gymnema tea. You will immediately notice an extremely bitter taste in your mouth and, for some, a slight, temporary anesthesia-like sensation on your tongue. Take another bite of that sugar cube and I defy you to taste one bit of the sweetness. In fact, the sugar should taste downright terrible.



While it’s making sugar taste like wet asphalt, some research indicates that gymnema may also block receptor sites in your small intestine and not allow up to 50 percent of the incoming sugar to be assimilated. This fact, however, is debated in herbal circles and not completely embraced by everyone in the herb world.

Gymnema’s common name is “Gurmar,” which literally means “sugar destroyer.” Now, you might be asking, “Why would I want to destroy the wonderful taste and effect of sugar on my body?” Well, if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), controlling your sugar levels is an important part of life.

For insulin- and non-insulin-dependent diabetics, gymnema could be a godsend. The herb is not a cure ” rather, it helps prevent the absorption and activity of glucose molecules. Some research indicates the herb may also help to repair the damage done to cells in the pancreas, liver and kidneys. Under careful monitoring, gymnema can be used in conjunction with insulin.

Studies at India’s University of Madras in the early 1990s used highly concentrated extracts of gymnema that equaled about an ounce and a half of the dried herb each day for a 132-pound adult. In non-insulin-dependent diabetics, all 22 patients in the study were able to decrease their drug dosage. In the insulin-dependent group, all the patients were able to reduce their daily insulin injections and showed “consistent improvements in blood glucose levels.”

In other research studies, gymnema did not work for every diabetic patient. A nutritional, low-sugar diet certainly helps and allows the herb to do its job. Unfortunately, gymnema apparently has little or no sugar-balancing effect for those with severe or toxic diabetic conditions.

There are some who promote gymnema as a diet aid for weight management. This goes back to the controversial belief that gymnema can block up to 50 percent of sugar assimilation in the small intestine. Many who tout gymnema for this purpose suggest combining it with chromium piccolonate supplements (200 mcg./day) to further metabolize sugars while decreasing the desire for sweets.

This does work very effectively. For full effectiveness, one would have to drink the tea or take the liquid extract just prior to eating the sugary snack, therefore numbing the taste of the snack. The trick would be to discipline yourself to take the herb right before eating the sugar.

I have not had a lot of noticeable results with gymnema capsules. The tea and extract are definitely effective and can be immediately felt. If you cannot find gymnema in tea or extract form, purchase the capsules and break open three or four, add eight ounces of hot water to the herbal powder and make a tea. The tea can be taken up to three times each day, always prior to eating sugary foods. The effect on the taste buds can last up to two hours.

Gymnema tends to increase urine output and secretions from the liver and pancreas. It can also boost oxygen uptake which creates an uplifting effect on one’s mood and can increase stamina. I have found that if you suffer from low blood sugar, drinking one cup of gymnema tea before bedtime helps to maintain sugar levels during the night and can prevent that dopey feeling in the morning.

If you’re taking drugs such as oral contraceptives, diuretics, thyroid hormones, anabolic steroids, aspirin, tetracycline and others, the herb’s effect may either be enhanced or decreased. In this case, moderate your use of gymnema.

Tricking yourself into believing that a double decker, fudge brownie sundae with marshmallow cream topping is disgusting may seem impossible. Especially when you see how that chocolate sauce caresses the side of the dish and beckons you with a coquettish grin. … Oh, where’d I put that gymnema. …

This column is not meant to take the place of your physician, nor is it intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before using herbal therapy.


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