Over 345 million people worldwide have diabetes, with more than 80 percent of diabetes deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that diabetes deaths would double between the years 2005 and 2030.
As the number of people with diabetes increases, so does the number of those who try alternative means to manage the disease, including the use of herbs. In a 2002 WHO report, the organization found that 80 percent of the world's population uses traditional medicine. Often, people combine herbal remedies with oral hypoglycemic medications. However, research suggests that natural does not always mean safe.
Dietary Supplements and Drug Interactions
Herbs, vitamins and other dietary supplements may augment or antagonize the actions of prescription and nonprescription drugs. Dietary supplements can include vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other botanicals, an amino acid, or other such substances. These supplements have demonstrated pharmacologic action used to produce therapeutic results.
Even supplements that do not have a documented pharmacologic action can affect the absorption, metabolism and disposition of other drugs. When taken orally, they travel through the digestive system in the same way as food or herbs would. If supplements are mixed with prescription or nonprescription drugs, each can alter the other's pharmacologic action.
A type of medicine called a sulphonylurea, glibenclamide helps control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It is one of two oral antidiabetics in the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines (the other being metformin).
Glibenclamide stimulates the cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, which produce insulin. For people with type 2 diabetes, this helps decrease the amount of sugar in the blood. And people who are not overweight or who cannot take metformin are often given glibenclamide as a first line treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Glibenclamide and Supplement Interactions
In a recent review, scientists looked at the research of many popular herbs, including garlic and ginger, and their interaction with glibenclamide. Below are the results:
• Ginger—used as a natural remedy and spice for centuries, ginger root can be used in various forms either in fresh, dried or oil. It is commonly used to treat upset stomachs, allergies, and as an anti-inflammatory, and it has been found to lower cholesterol. When combined with glibenclamide, ginger significantly reduced non-fasting blood glucose levels better than glibenclamide alone.
• Aloe Vera—great for cuts, sunburns and even bug bites, aloe vera can also reduce inflammation (both internally and externally); heal internal digestive problems; such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and acid reflux; and stabilize blood pressure and reduces triglycerides. Regarding diabetes, a single-blinded study reported that 15 mL of aloe juice with glibenclamide significantly improves blood glucose level and lipid levels—even when glibenclamide alone had not effectively controlled the condition.
• Ginkgo Biloba—the oldest living tree species, ginkgo has proven beneficial in treating dementia and Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma and macular degeneration. However, in a double-blind randomized trial on type 2 diabetic patients on oral antidiabetic therapy, a three-month treatment with ginkgo biloba extract resulted in a significant worsening of glucose tolerance.
• Fenugreek—fenugreek has shown to alleviate a wide variety of health concerns ranging from dandruff, low libido, fever and headaches to bronchial problems. Plus, studies indicate that it improves glycemic control and decreases insulin resistance in patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.
• Caffeine—a naturally occurring chemical stimulant, caffeine is a drug. It actually shares a number of traits with more notorious drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. For type 2 diabetics that are habitual [coffee] drinkers, caffeine exaggerates the body's standard responses to carbohydrate loads. However, different studies have concluded that coffee on an everyday basis, together with some changes in lifestyle habits, helps lower high blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity.
• Garlic—one of the most popular culinary spices, garlic offers a wealth of health benefits and has effects comparable to glibenclamide. It can be used to treat high cholesterol, parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion and low energy. Studies suggest that regularly eating garlic helps lower blood pressure, controls blood sugar and blood cholesterol, and boosts the immune system. For individuals with diabetes, the benefits of taking garlic include not only lowering high blood sugar levels but providing healthy blood circulation.
Supplements, Diabetes and Me
Dietary supplements can have both a positive and negative impact on your diabetes and diabetes medication. While all the herbs described above offer benefits to your overall health, it is important to discuss with your doctor whether dietary supplementation is right for you. Some herbs can have serious side effects if they are not taken appropriately and can even hamper the performance of your diabetes medication.