Bitter melon tops herbal remedies for diabetes

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Bitter melon tops herbal remedies for diabetes

Chukwuma Muanya,
08 June 2017

Researchers have identified functional foods and phytonutrients that could be effectively used to manage diabetes.Top on the list, according to the report published in the book entitled, “Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa,” and journal Current Pharmacology Reports, are: bitter melon; Aloe vera; bitter kola; bitter leaf; clove oil; coconut oil; garlic; ginger; black pepper (utazi in Ibo); guava leaves; velvet beans; bush mango; onion; okra; plantain; scent leaf; soursop; soybeans; tea leaves; and turmeric.

The author of “Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa” and professor of pharmacognosy, Maurice Iwu, said his team of researchers at the International Centre for Ethomedicine and Drug Development (InterCEDD), Nsukka, Enugu State, has outlined a select list of major herbs or food plants that are used as nutritional supplements in the management of diabetes and/or its complications.

Naturally occurring phenolic compounds that are distributed widely in plants such as flavonoids, procyanidins, and catechins have been shown to be responsible for the anti-diabetic activities of many edible vegetables and fruits. They constitute an important component of human diet. Flavonoids and procyanidins are capable of improving, stabilizing, and sustaining insulin secretion, pancreatic islets, and pancreatic cell activities.

Bitter melon

A study published in journal Current Pharmacology Reports has established that besides diabetes, bitter melon is effective in treating other chronic diseases such as cancer and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The study is titled “Bitter Melon as a Therapy for Diabetes, Inflammation, and Cancer: a Panacea?” The researchers noted: “Over the last few decades, multiple well-structured scientific studies have been performed to study the effects of bitter melon in various diseases. Some of the properties for which bitter melon has been studied include: antioxidant, antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-HIV, anthelmintic, hypotensive, anti-obesity, immuno-modulatory, antihyperlipidemic, hepato-protective, and neuro-protective activities. This review attempts to summarize the various literature findings regarding medicinal properties of bitter melon. With such strong scientific support on so many medicinal claims, bitter melon comes close to being considered a panacea.”

According to Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa published 2017 by CRC Press, “…Dietary use of bitter melon or its juice decreases blood glucose levels, increases High Density Lipo-protein (HDL)/good cholesterol, and decreases triglyceride levels, thus exhibiting antiatherogenic qualities. Extract of bitter melon in supplement form has been widely used as a traditional medicine for diabetic patients. When administered alone, it has a modest hypoglycemic effect at doses of at least 2000 mg/day. This botanical supplement enhances the cellular uptake of glucose and promotes insulin release, potentiating its effect, and in animal studies has been shown to increase the number of insulin-producing beta cells in diabetic animals. Bitter melon has also been found to reduce adiposity and oxidative stress in addition to reducing blood triglycerides and Low Density Lipo-proteins (LDL)/bad cholesterol.”

Bitter leaf

The major activities found in many laboratory and clinical studies on Bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) include antimalarial, antidiabetic, antioxidant, antihypercholesterolemic, anthelmintic, uterine contractility, immune boosting in HIV infections, and anti-inflammatory properties. Vernonia holds tremendous promise for development into a nutraceutical against diabetes and malaria. It has been found that a decoction containing a mixture of bitter leaf, scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) and West African black pepper (Gongronema latifolium, Utazi in Ibo) was found to be superior in antidiabetic activity to any one, or blends of only two, of the three plants. A proprietary product by InterCEDD Health Products and Neimeth Pharmaceuticals called Physogen Plus contains the three vegetables and bitter kola (Garcinia kola).

Black pepper

Utazi is valued as an ingredient for the preparation of bitters. It is a major constituent of the popular antidiabetic tea, Physogen, produced by InterCEDD and marketed by Neimeth Pharmaceuticals and InterCEDD Health Products (IHP). Several laboratory studies have demonstrated the possible antidiabetic activity of Utazi. Different alcoholic leaf extracts showed promising hypoglycemic and antihyperglycemic activities in a dose-dependent way on normal and alloxan-induced or streptozotocin-induced diabetic rabbits. An ethanolic leaf extract possessed significant anti-lipid peroxidative activities. In a small clinical trial, the blood glucose concentration of healthy humans was determined after consumption of leaves and showed a significant reduction in blood glucose level. Leaf extracts also showed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepato-protective, anti-plasmodial, anti-asthmatic, anti-sickling, antiulcer, analgesic, antipyretic, gastrointestinal relaxing, laxative, and stomachic activities.

Bitter kola

According to Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa, kolaviron, the mixture of bioflavonoids, benzophenones, and chromanols, and related phenolic compounds in Garcinia kola possess strong antioxidant activities. Also, a study published in African Health Sciences has established the antidiabetic effect of kolaviron; a biflavonoid complex isolated from Garcinia kola seeds, in Wistar rats.

The researchers led by O. A. Adaramoye established the hypoglycaemic effect of kolaviron (KV), (biflavonoid from Garcinia kola) in streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic rats.They evaluated the possible protective effects of KV on cardiac, renal and hepatic tissues of STZ-diabetic rats.
The study consisted of four groups of six rats each. Groups one and two contained non-diabetic and untreated-diabetic rats, respectively. Groups three and four were made up of KV- and glibenclamide (GB) – treated diabetic rats, respectively.

The researchers found that the STZ-intoxication caused a significant increase in the relative weight of liver in diabetic rats. STZ-diabetic rats had significant increase in the levels of fasting blood glucose (FBG), á-amylase and HbA1c. A marked and significant increase in the levels of cardiac, renal and liver marker indices such as serum creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, creatinine, urea and alanine aminotransferase were observed in untreated diabetic rats. Also, untreated diabetic rats had significantly elevated urinary glucose and protein and, lowered creatinine clearance. In KV- and GB- treated groups, the levels of FBG, á-amylase and HbA1c were significantly reduced, while treatment with KV significantly attenuated the cardiac, renal and liver marker indices.They concluded that KV offered significant antidiabetic and tissues protective effects in the rats.

Bush mango

Botanically called Irvingia gabonensis, Bush mango is known as Ogbono in Ibo language. Seeds of Irvingia species are used in West Africa culinary arts as mucilaginous soup thickener for the preparation of Ogbono soup. The aqueous extract has been found by laboratory studies and clinical outcome studies to have a beneficial effect on the management of type 2 diabetes. In high-fat-diet rats, the mucilage was effective in preventing increase in plasma lipid levels, improving the antioxidant enzyme levels, exerting beneficial effects on lipid metabolism, and avoiding large increase in food intake and body weight. This is due to the effect the mucilage exerts on intestinal peptide involved in the regulation of food intake, and also their gel-forming and good antioxidant properties. A proprietary formulation of Irvingia extract, Evira-IHP is marketed by IHP as an anti-obesity supplement.

Scent leaf

Ocimum species are used as vegetable spices in soups and in traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases. Ocimum gratissimum is popularly used to treat diabetes mellitus. The hypoglycemic activity of this medicinal species has been confirmed by several in vivo studies. The plant contains several volatile components, including the hypoglycemic phenolic substances such as L-caftaric acid, L-chicoric acid, eugenyl-beta-D-glucopyranoside, and vicenin. The activity of Ocimum gratissimum decoction fractions has been shown by laboratory studies to be mainly due to the presence of chicoric acid. A hypoglycemic tetracyclic triterpene has also been isolated from the related Ocimum sanctum from India. Scent leaf is a major ingredient in the anti-diabetic tea, Vernonia-Ocimum, marketed by IHP.


Researchers have shown that a meal of soursop could be the cure for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and diarrhoea.Commonly called Soursop, Annona muricata is a plant, which belongs to the family Anonaceae.

Soursop is a medicinal plant that has been used as a natural remedy for a variety of illnesses. Several studies by different researchers demonstrated that the bark as well as the leaves has anti-hypertensive, vasodilator, anti-spasmodic (smooth muscle relaxant) and cardio depressant (slowing of heart rate) activities in animals. Researchers have re-verified Soursop leaf’s hypotensive (reduce blood pressure) properties in rats. Other properties and actions of Soursop documented by traditional uses include its use as anti-cancerous, anti-diabetes, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-malarial, anti-mutagenic (cellular protector), emetic (induce vomiting), anti-convulsant, sedative (induces sleep), insecticidal and uterine stimulant (helps in childbirth). It is also believed to be a digestive stimulant, antiviral, cardio tonic (tones, balances and strengthens the heart), febrifuge (cures fever), nerviness (balances/calms the nerves), vermifuge (expels worms), pediculocide (kills lice) and as an analgesic (pain-reliever).

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