Botanical products are widely used in nutritional supplementation for promotion of health or prevention of diseases. With the high prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, abnormalities in carbohydrate metabolism are common in the general population and obtaining glycemic control is important in reducing the complications of diabetes. If shown to be effective, botanical products have a unique position in potentially aiding the general public in regard to obesity and diabetes. They can be obtained “over-the-counter” and may have less side effects compared to many synthetic drugs. Although most of the popular botanicals have a long history in folk medicine, there is paucity of data regarding their efficacy and safety, particularly as it relates to human studies. In this review, we discuss the data that was available in the literature for nine botanicals that are frequently promoted to help manage blood glucose. They are Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia), Fenugreek (trigonella foenum graecum), Gymnema Sylvestre, Ivy Gourd (Coccinia indica), Nopal or Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia streptacantha), Ginseng, Aloe Vera, Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), and Garlic (Allium sativum). The discussion is emphasized on the clinical aspect of these botanicals. Due to the lack of sufficient evidence from clinical studies for any of the botanicals reviewed, it is premature to actively recommend use of any particular herb to treat either glucose or other risk factors. Thus, well defined randomized clinical trials are warranted in this area.
Bitter melon, glucose tolerance, Gymnema sylvestre, Type 2 diabetics, Allium sativum
Division of Nutrition and Chronic Diseases, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, 6400 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70808, USA.