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Gymnema may assist the pancreas in the production of insulin in people with type 2. Gymnema also improves the ability of insulin to lower blood sugar in people with both type 1 and type 2. So far, no double-blind studies have confirmed the benefit of Gymnema for people with any type of diabetes. One uncontrolled study found that 400 mg daily of a Gymnema extract could reduce or eliminate the need for oral blood sugar-lowering drugs in some people with type 2 (Baskaran K, 1990). Another uncontrolled study suggested the same amount of the extract could allow for use of less insulin in people with type 1. Gymnema is not a substitute for insulin.

Asian ginseng is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diabetes. It has been shown in test tube and animal studies to enhance the release of insulin from the pancreas and to increase the number of insulin receptors (Zhang T, 1990). Animal research has also revealed a direct blood sugar-lowering effect of ginseng. A recent double-blind study in humans found that 200 mg of ginseng extract per day improved blood sugar control, as well as energy levels in type 2 (Sotaniemi EA, Haapakoski E, 1995).

Bilberry may lower the risk of some diabetic complications, such as diabetic cataracts and retinopathy. One uncontrolled study found that a standardized extract of bilberry could improve signs of retinal damage in some people with diabetic retinopathy (Scharrer A, Ober M, 1981). Ginkgo biloba extract may prove useful for prevention and treatment of early-stage diabetic neuropathy, though research is at best very preliminary in this area. Other herbs that may help are fenugreek seeds.

Two single-blind studies have found that aloe vera juice helps lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2. One study found that 1 Tbsp (15 grams) twice daily notably improved the efficacy of the oral blood sugar-lowering drug glibenclamide. The other study found the juice by itself was effective. (Bunyapraphatsara N, 1996)

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