Another chinese breakthrough in diabetes treatment

September 16, 2008

Nothing to do with the Olympics, but Chinese medicine is known to be a very rich source for finding new therapies for diseases and for over 500 years have used bitter melon as a treatment for diabetes. However, anecdotal evidence – that is when you have seen hundreds of years with thousands of people taking some natural remedy that is effective – is anathema to the scientific and medical community. Herbal medicine has stepped up to the challenge to ‘prove’ their remedies work and, in a collaboration with an Australian research institute, the scientists have isolated four compounds in bitter melon that may account for why this treatment is so effective.

In addition to relieving the symptoms of diabetes, bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote digestion, brighten the eyes and cool the body. A spokesman for the Australian Chinese Medicine Association further claims that it helps people keep slim, lose weight and regulate cholesterol levels.

The researchers identified four compounds that appeared to stimulate the activity of a chemical known as AMPK, which is known to help regulate blood sugar levels.

In people with diabetes, the body is not able to move enough sugar from the blood and into the cells where it can be burned for energy, and exercise is normally prescribed as a part of diabetes treatment. This is because it activates AMPK, which is known to help move glucose transporters to the surface of cells, where they can then grab the sugar out of the blood..

In the current study, if bitter melon was taken before a meal, it helped by more efficiently removing glucose from the blood and had the same effect on AMPK as exercise.

As type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the world, with an estimated 171 million people currently so diagnosed, then anything that can help stem this could be invaluable and the researchers are planning on full scale trials on people next year.

The researchers want to develop new drugs based on these compounds, but if you want to stay with the natural route – and there isn’t much bitter melon in my local supermarket – then talk it over with your doctor if you already are on diabetes medication, then either consult a traditional Chinese herbalist, or consider taking it in supplement form as several companies now market it in this way.


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