Health benefits of Gymnema sylvestre / Gurmar

Health benefits of Gymnema sylvestre / Gurmar

Why does sugared coffee taste bitter if we have it after eating chocolate? Why does tea tastes funny immediately after eating sweet? Why does orange juice taste bitter after eating a cookie? You must have come across such questions. Answer lies in taste senses and our nervous system. Various tastes stimulates various parts our brain. Often when we eat something sweet, we feel like eating more. And it is difficult for us to control if we are strictly on weight loss diet. What if we were not able to taste sweet? Exciting right, would definitely stop our cravings for sweet food. Gymnema sylvestre or Gurmar is one such great herb which kills taste of sugar!

Gymnema is a perennial climber herb found in tropical forests of Southern India, Sri Lanka and other parts of South East Asia. This herb has been used in traditional medicine form for treatment of diabetes for over 2000 years. Extracts of Gymnema leaf is key ingredient in various folk medicines of Australia, Japan, Vietnam and India. It is one of the miracle plants which kills/paralyzes temporarily sensation of sweet. Synsepalum dulcificum and Thaumatococcus daniellii are other such plants.

Apart from this miraculous property, the plant has other medicinal uses. Scientists are busy undertaking research on health benefits of Gymnema. With limited clinical trials and reliance on ancient knowledge, Gymnema supplements have hit market and you would find many gymnema herbal products in stores near you. As more evidence for claims of health benefits of gymnema are sought, its use would be more popularized.

Some of the health benefits of gymnema include its use for treatment of type 2 diabetes, treatment of diabetes mellitus, regulation of blood sugar, stimulation of insulin secretion, its use as antimicrobial, antiviral, natural food for obesity, reduction of cholesterol, anti-inflammatory property, treating gastrointestinal problems, skin problems and other benefits.

What chemical in gymnema causes loss of sweetness?

Gymnema contains a class of chemicals called gymnemic acids (name suggests origin and uniqueness of the chemical). Around 15-20 types of gymnemic acids are present in the plant, mainly the leaves. Some gymnemic acids are found to be responsible for temporary switching of your sweetness taste buds. Leaf also contains a peptide called Gurmarin – which has ability to interfere with taste buds for sweet and bitter taste. Apart from Gymnemic acids, it contains flavones, chlorophyrll, resins, organic acids and other phyto chemicals. However they do not have any impact on sweet taste buds.

flower of gymnemaIs this effect irreversible?

The effect is not permanent. The impact depending on amount of dosage and person to person, last for 10 minutes to 2 hours. During this, other tastes are normal. This means, if you drink lemonade it will taste only sour.

Health benefits of Gymnema and its medicinal use

Gymnema finds important place in ancient medicine forms of India, including Ayurveda, Yunani and Siddha. Leaves of gymnema Sylvestre are used in ayurveda for its anti-diabetic properties.

Want to Stop Sugar Cravings?

As discussed earlier, gymnemic acids stops stimulation of taste buds for sweetness and thus helps prevent sugar cravings. Sugar cravings have been culprits for over consumption of sweet food (sweet tooth as we call). Sugar cravings result in excess calories which are absolute no-no for people wanting to lose weight. Sugar cravings are also symptoms in diabetics and impact the disease further. Gymnema also works as food for appetite suppression.

Gymnema reduces sugar level in body

Hypoglycemic property of Gymnema was reported as early as 1920 in research paper. Gymnemic acids interfere with absorption of glucose in intestine and thus suppress blood glucose level. A Japanese study with gymnema leaves extract on rats and pigs, confirmed the same.

Gymnema sylvestre for treatment of Type 1 diabetes

In type I diabetes, cell in pancreas do not produce insulin, thus leading to increase in blood and urine glucose, as the sugar cannot be absorbed by body. It also affects metabolism of fats and proteins and increases risk of other vascular disease. Gymnema stimulates Islets of Langerhans – cells in pancreas which secretes insulin and hence finds use in treatment of type I diabetics or insulin dependent diabetes.

An in-vitro study confirmed that extract of gymnema leaves increases membrane permeability of cells that secrete insulin. A similar study found efficacy of Gymnema leaf extract treatment on patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and it possible use in treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Gymnema sylvestre for treatment of Type 2 daibetes

Diabetes mellitus type 2 or noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood glucose due to insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency and is often caused by is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. A human study with extract from leaves of Gymnema found effective in controlling hyperglycaemia in Type 2 daibetics patients. In the study, long term dosage of Gymnema supplements resulted in reduction of blood glucose and reduced need for conventional medicines.

Gymnema helps reduce cholesterol

Gymnema leaf contains chemicals which avoid absorption of harmful cholesterol and triglycerides in intestine and thus results in excretion of cholesterol. Lab tests showed that gymnema leaf extract reduced cholesterol level in rats with artificially increased cholesterol. The results indicate antiatherosclerotic potential of gymnema and its use to reduce risk of cholesterol deposition in heart arteries.

Natural food against Obesity

Obesity is due to accumulation of fats and carbohydrates. Obesity is often genetic and also common in people with diabetes. A hypothesis is that there is a common link between diabetes, gymnemic acid and obesity; and medicines useful for reducing diabetes are useful to reduce obesity. Gymnemic acid reduces absorption of glucose in blood. It reduces sugar craving which is common in obese people. It also acts in suppression of appetite. Gymnema also reduces risk of diabetics in obese people.

Can Gymnema extract be used for weight loss? With its action on glucose and fat metabolism, suppression of taste buds and appetite, Gymnema is believed to reduce weight. Some lab results have confirms such claims. Gymnema results in secretion of excess sugar from body and avoids it getting deposited as fats in body. Gymnema weight loss products have already hit the market.

Anti microbial activity

Gymnema extract have antimicrobial activity and protects against various strains of bacteria. Tribes in western hilly regions of India uses gymnema leaves as home remedy for herpes, suggesting its antiviral activity.

Natural Anti-Inflammatory food

Lab results have shown anti-inflammatory properties of gymnema leaves extract, thus showing its protective effect in protecting body parts from free radicals. It has been used traditionally in treatment of asthma, eye complaints, osteoporosis and inflammations.

Protection for Liver

Gymnema possesses hepatoprotective properties and helpful as tonic for protection of liver. Palliyar tribals in Sirumalai hills of India, use gymnema leaves for treatment of jaundice.

Treatment of intestinal worms

Traditional medicine forms use Gymnema as antihelminthics for removing intestinal parasites and worms.

Gymnema for skin diseases

Gymnema is also used in treating skin disorders and infections, which are common in diabetes. It has been used as remedy for leucoderma or white patches on skin. Extracts of gymnema often finds its use as ingredient in skin cosmetics.

Gymnema for Lung disorders

Gymnema acts as expectorant and suppresses cough. It is also used in treatment of bronchitis.

Gymnema acts as diuretic

Gymnema acts as diuretic. In Kanchepuram district in South India, gymnema leaves are chewed raw in morning for clear urine.

Other health benefits of gymnema

  • Traditionally gymnema leaf powder along with mikk is used to treat constipation, stomach ailments, diabetes.
  • Some tribes in India still use Gymnema root powder is taken orally or applied on bitten spot to treat snake bite.
  • Gymnmea is also used to prevent and cure dental caries.
  • Gymnema leaves act as cardiotonic (tonic for heart), antipyretic (reduce fever) and anti-allergic.

Gymnema sylvestre as a dietary Supplement

Gymnema Tea: Most common way of using health benefits of gymnema is gymnema tea. The tea is made from dried leaves of gymnema plant. It is promoted as natural cure for diabetes and obesity. Gymnema tea is common in Japan.

Similarly Gymnema chewing gum is promoted for its health benefits.

Some References on health benefits of gymnema

Side effects of gymnema

  • No side effects of gymnema have been reported. However, gymnema reduces blood sugar level, increase insulin secretion and thus interacts with drugs used for treatment of diabetes.
  • Please check your blood sugar level if you find such symptoms like Heart palpitations, Shakiness, Anxiety, Sweating, Hunger or Tingling sensation around the mouth. Some may be caused due to low sugar level due to gymnema activity.
  • Use of gymnema for short duration and within low dosage levels is recommended.

Other Common names of Gymnema are

  • English: cowplant, Australian cowplant, periploca of the woods, Gimnema
  • Sanskrit: meshasringa (horns of ram – as the fruits are shaped), madhunashini
  • Indian: gurmari, gurmarbooti, gurmar, Chakkarakolli (Malayalam), Podapatri (Telugu), Kavali, kalikardori, vakundi, merasingi (Marathi), Dhuleti, mardashingi (Gujarati), Adigam, cherukurinja (Tamil), Sannagerasehambu (Kannada)
  • The scientific name is Gymnema sylvestre – which originates from Greek “gymnos” meaning naked, “nēma” meaning thread, Sylvestre meaning forest.
Image Credits: Flickr - Shaista, Flickr - Shubhada

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