Native to the forests of India, Gymnema sylvestre (also called gumar) has a coincidental double relationship to sugar: When placed on the tongue, it blocks the sensation of sweetness, and when taken internally, it might help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. (There doesn’t seem to be any connection between these two uses.)
Practitioners of Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) first used gymnema to treat diabetes almost 2,000 years ago. In the 1920s, preliminary scientific studies found some evidence that gymnema leaves can reduce blood sugar levels,1 but nothing much came of this observation for decades. Research in India picked up again in the 1980s and 90s, leading to the publication of promising preliminary studies in people.
Gymnema has become increasingly popular in the United States as a supportive treatment for diabetes. However, the evidence that it works remains weak. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have yet been reported for gymnema. Current evidence is limited to a few animal studies and human open trials.2-9 (For information on the importance of the double-blind design, see "Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?")
Warning: This herb is advocated as a support to standard treatment, not as a replacement for it. Gymnema definitely cannot be used as a substitute for insulin treatment, and has not been proven strong enough for use in lieu of oral diabetes medications. However, there are also potential risks involved in adding gymnema to an existing treatment regimen. See Safety Issues.
Gymnema is usually taken at a dosage of 400 to 600 mg daily of an extract standardized to contain 24% gymnemic acid.
When used in appropriate dosages, gymnema appears to be fairly safe, although extensive studies have not been performed. One obvious risk is that if gymnema is successful, it may lower blood sugar levels too far, causing a dangerous hypoglycemic reaction. For this reason, medical supervision is essential.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe kidney or liver disease has not been established.
If you are taking insulin or oral medications to reduce blood sugar levels, gymnema might cause them to work even better, potentially causing hypoglycemia. Therefore, you may need to reduce your dose of medication.
1. Lininger SW, Wright J, Austin S, et al. The Natural Pharmacy. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1998:276
2. Shanmugasundaram ER, Rajeswari G, Baskaran K, et al. Use of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract in the control of blood glucose in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990;30:281–294.
3. Baskaran K, Kizar Ahamath B, Radha Shanmugasundaram K, et al. Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin–dependent diabetes mellitus patients. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990;30:295–300.
4. Joffe DJ, Freed SH. Effect of extended release Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract alone or in combination with oral hypoglycemics or insulin regimens for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Control Newsl. 2001;76(1):1-4.
5. Shanmugasundaram KR, Panneerselvam C, Samudram P, et al. Enzyme changes and glucose utilisation in diabetic rabbits: the effect of Gymnema sylvestre.J Ethnopharmacol. 1983;7:205-234.
6. Prakash AO, Mathur S, Mathur R. Effect of feeding Gymnema sylvestre leaves on blood glucose in beryllium nitrate treated rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1986;18:143-146.
7. Shanmugasundaram ER, Gopinath KL, Radha Shanmugasundaram K, et al. Possible regeneration of the islets of Langerhans in streptozotocin-diabetic rats given Gymnema sylvestre leaf extracts. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990;30:265-279.
8. Shimizu K, Iino A, Nakajima J, et al. Suppression of glucose absorption by some fractions extracted from Gymnema sylvestre leaves. J Vet Med Sci. 1997;59:245-251.
9. Chattopadhyay RR. Possible mechanism of antihyperglycemic effect of Gymnema sylvestre leaf extract, part 1. Gen Pharmacol. 1998;31:495-496.
Last reviewed August 2013 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 8/22/2013