Are Gymnema Sylvestre Benefits For Diabetes & Weight Loss Real?
[toc]Gymnema in Hindi is the word gurmar. It translates to English as literally meaning “sugar destroyer.”
The same meaning holds true with other languages used in India and Pakistan such as Telugu, Urdu, and ancient Sanskrit. In that region, this herb is an Ayurvedic staple.
As part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine, gymnema tea and supplements are used for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, prediabetes/insulin resistance, weight loss, sugar cravings, and pancreas health. Less commonly, it’s used for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), asthma, and candida yeast infections.
Not all of the uses are supported by science. If you search the PubMed database for PCOS, you will find no published literature.
On the flip side, for several of the purported gurmar benefits, clinical trials are starting to emerge which suggest they might be legit.
What is gymnema?
Its scientific name is Gymnema sylvestre and it’s most commonly called the miracle fruit. Other names for it include Australian cowplant and periploca of the woods. Even though gurmar is the Hindi name, it’s still used in English speaking countries.
Gymnema, which is in the milkweed family, grows native in central and western India, the tropical climates throughout Africa, and most of Australia. It’s a woody vine that produces cone-shaped green fruit, which are often called gymnema beans or berries. The parts used for medicinal properties are the leaf, root, and rhizome.
The benefits of Gymnema sylvestre relate mostly to the metabolism of carbs and sugars. When you chew gymnema leaves, you can’t taste sugar for next 10-15 minutes.
What causes it to work are gymnemic acids, which are unique to the gymnema plant. These compounds are similar in shape to glucose (sugar) and work by occupying the sugar receptor cavities on taste buds. This temporarily prevents a person from being able to taste real sugar.
It makes a cupcake taste like cardboard, no joke. Sugar addiction goes away when you can’t taste it.
During digestion, the leaves or powder extracts made from gymnema appear to block intestinal sugar absorption to some degree. They work there because the receptors for absorbing sugar are similar to the shape of those on taste buds. This can result in lower blood sugar, because the body isn’t absorbing as much.
As you can imagine, the effects on taste and in the small intestine potentially offer a plethora of therapeutic and medicinal uses.
Weight loss reviews claim that a ½ teaspoon gymnema dosage of powder on the tongue or in tea will stop sugar cravings dead in their tracks. People are even using it as a purported natural remedy for dogs and cats with diabetes.
What follows are the preliminary findings seen to date. No benefit has enough research to be conclusively proven and for that reason, it should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (1) (2) (3)
1. May reduce insulin needs in type 1 diabetics
Unlike the more common type 2 diabetes, the type 1 is not caused by obesity or lifestyle. It has an autoimmune cause that usually happens during childhood. The body mistakes the insulin producing cells of the pancreas as being foreign and permanently destroys them.
While no human clinical trials have taken place in the US involving diabetics, several have been conducted by various universities in India.
Not all are relevant, since some focus on type 2 or they combine the miracle fruit leaf with other Ayurvedic treatments, like amla and curcumin. (4)
The earliest trial is directly relevant – it used GS4 Plus on type 1 patients. GS4 is a proprietary gymnema extract created by Sabinsa Corp.
You may not recognize the Sabinsa brand but if you take supplements, odds are you have used their ingredients. They invented BioPerine, a bioavailability booster derived from black pepper that’s used for turmeric, CoQ10 and many others.
Published in 1990, this study involved 27 insulin-dependent type 1 diabetic patients, both male and female, ranging from 10 to 50 years of age. Given the potential safety concern of too low of blood sugar, it’s surprising they were giving gurmar dosages to children (that probably wouldn’t happen in a US study).
As directed, patients used a 400 mg daily dosage of gymnema for diabetes in conjunction with their insulin therapy. All were monitored for at least 2 months and some for up to 30 months of treatment. The results were:
“…the GS4 treated patients developed hypoglycemic [low blood sugar] episodes and their insulin dose was reduced by 10 units at a time.”
Some of the stories were quite remarkable, like case #4 who had a 25 year history of the disease and responded in a similar manner to the more newly diagnosed cases.
Not only were insulin requirements reduced with time, by signs of internal damage from the disease – like HbA1c – were also lower. The statistically significant drop in HbA1c happened during the first 6-8 months of usage.
All results were compared against a control group of 37 similar diabetics who were only using conventional therapy (insulin). (5)
2. Improved BMI and cholesterol seen in prediabetics
With results published in 2017, it’s one of the most recent trials involving this herb.
24 patients with metabolic syndrome participated. Ranging in age from 30 to 60, these people were obese and had signs of prediabetes.
In a randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled method, roughly half the patients took 300 mg gymnema capsules twice daily, before breakfast and dinner, for a total of 90 days. The other half took placebo.
The placebo group gained 3.3 lbs while the gymnema group lost 3.4 lbs on average. As one would expect with losing weight, they also had an improved BMI and smaller waist circumference at the end of the trial.
As far as metabolic parameters, changes in insulin production and sensitivity weren’t seen in the treated group but at least they didn’t worsen. Their LDL cholesterol (which is the bad kind) went down by 9 points. (6) (7)
3. Lower blood sugar seen in type 2 diabetics
In an open label trial where 39 type 2 diabetics supplemented with 500 mg of the leaf for 3 months, there were improvements seen with:
Polyphagia (excessive hunger or increased appetite)
Fasting blood glucose
Postprandial blood glucose (after eating)
These results were compared against a control group of 19 diabetics of the same average age (56) with similar health profiles. (8)
4. Weight loss
So this benefit was reported in studies with diabetics. How about non-diabetics?
A randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 60 moderately obese people. Over the course of 8 weeks, some took 400 mg daily of Gymnema sylvestre extract in combination with hydroxycitric acid (a derivative of citric acid).
Their body weight and BMI decreased by 6% in 8 weeks.
Furthermore, total and LDL cholesterol went down, along with triglycerides. HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind, went up. (9)
Japanese scientists measured the antioxidant activity of 6 popular teas consumed in their country:
In the 10 healthy volunteers who had their blood levels monitored for signs of oxidative damage, the best results were seen with green tea and the least impressive were with barley. Gymnema tea ranked around the middle for antioxidants. (10)
In the lab, Gymnema sylvestre has been found to inhibit the growth of Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas, Proteus vulgaris, Bacillus subtillis and Staphylococcus aureus. (11)
7. Inhibits Candida yeast growth
This pesky yeast can cause nasty infections which are hard to get rid of.
It’s the culprit of oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections (candidal vulvovaginitis). The latter has symptoms similar to bacterial vaginosis (BV) but it’s caused by fungus rather than bacteria.
Overgrowth of it in the intestinal tract seems to affect women more than men.
While most urinary tract infections (UTI) are caused by E. coli, they can also be caused by candida.
Even infections of the bloodstream can occur, which can be life threatening.
A gymnema sylvestre dosage for Candida overgrowth is used in some alternative medicine practices. While unproven, recent research is starting to suggest there may be something to it.
Kansas State University found that when worms ate the plant’s gymnemic acids, the Candida yeast colonies they harbored inside could no longer reproduce.
The yeast couldn’t make their hyphae. Those are branching filaments, which is how they reproduce asexually. (12)
In 2017, an Indian university published research on the antimicrobial activity of gymnema. Out of the bacteria and fungi tested in the lab, they said that “Candida albicans was the most sensitive organism.” (13)
8. Spleen support
While not tested in humans, rodent models have found that the gymnemic acid from the plant triggered lymphocyte proliferation in the spleen. In plain English, there was a boost in production of the disease-fighting white blood cell known as lymphocytes.
This might be preliminary evidence for the immune boosting claims made in Ayurveda medicine. (14) (15)
9. Kidney support
In a diabetic rat model of kidney disease, a 200 mg per kg of body weight dose appeared to reduce renal damage. This was based on signs of oxidative stress in the organ and renal markers like urea, creatinine and uric acid. (16)
Using gymnema for kidney stones has not been researched in any capacity.
Also seen in rodents are neuroprotective benefits. Antioxidant activity appears to be responsible for this.
In models where they were given diabetes and monitored for related complications, such as diabetic neuropathy, gymnema treatment was associated with lower inflammation and fewer signs of oxidative stress. This was seen in their sciatic nerve tissue samples. (17)
In a model with mice exposed to radiation, pre-treatment with the herb was associated with less brain damage. (18)
Adverse reactions from drinking gymnema sylvestre tea or using supplements may include:
Too low of blood sugar
Increased desire for non-sweet foods
Interference with surgical procedures
Acute tubulointerstitial nephritis (AIN)
Unknown safety during pregnancy
Unknown safety while breastfeeding
There may be additional side effects which are unknown.
The best documented danger of using gymnema is that it can lower blood sugar. While that may be considered a benefit, in diabetics, an uncontrolled drop can be life threatening. This is why diabetics should not use this supplement without first consulting their medical doctor.
Published in 2017, a study out of Cornell involving 51 healthy individuals found that when they drank gymnema tea, some would seek out other higher calorie foods since they could no longer get satisfaction from dessert, soda, and other sources of sugar. In theory, that could cause weight gain, if one were to substitute these with even higher calorie foods, such as those fried and with high fat content. (19)
Is it safe?
Toxicology studies using rabbits haven’t reported adverse changes in the liver, kidneys, or heart. When rats were fed the herb as 1% of their diet for 1 year straight, no side effects were seen in hematology, body weight, food consumption habits, or other biological parameters. While their pancreas were not analyzed, there were not markers to suggest adverse effects to that organ. (20) (21)
There is one case study in medical literature of type 2 diabetic, a 60 year old man, who consumed an herbal formulation containing Gymnema sylvestre and suffering from acute interstitial nephritis (AIN). That’s a form of kidney injury. It’s unknown as to which ingredient(s) in the formulation caused it. (22)
When it comes to potential toxicity to the liver, despite being a common remedy for diabetes in India, only one published case study reports a man who sustained hepatitis while using Gymnema sylvestre. It’s not confirmed if it was connected to the herb or not. (23)
In the human clinical trials to date, evidence of potential gymnema side effects is sparse. In the first trial where 27 type 1 diabetes took 400 mg daily, there were no reports of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), or GI disturbances like gas and bloating. Those reactions tend to be the most common in clinical trials of medicines and herbal treatments. (5)
In fact, 5 patients in that study…
“…reported a sense of greater well-being characterized by alertness of mind and body during their daily chores such as catching a bus at a crowded stop, playing games, writing examinations…”
One of the type 2 diabetes studies reported less fatigue, which might explain those mental health benefits.
How to take it
While some believe it may be the best pancreas supplement, gymnema sylvestre should not be used for any disease. Its intended use is as a dietary supplement.
This “sugar destroyer” may be good for you as a diet pill, since it can reduce sugar cravings. At least temporarily, if the powder inside the capsule makes contact with your tongue (which requires opening it).
How much gymnema to take per day typically ranges from 400 mg to 1,400 mg of leaf powder, depending on the brand. Capsules are typically taken twice daily; once before breakfast and again before dinner. Smaller dosages can be taken three times per day, before each meal. This is the best way to use it because it can curb your appetite if you take prior to eating.
How long it takes gymnema sylvestre to start working depends on the form. Placing leaf powder on your tongue or drinking tea made with it works immediately for inhibiting the taste of sugar. While capsules are believed to begin working in the intestinal tract 30-60 minute after taking, it’s unlikely they will affect your taste buds and their perception of sweetness.
For this reason, a good way to use it is to open a capsule and swish it around in your mouth with a little water and then swallow. That way, you target the tongue and the digestive tract with the same dose.
Where can I buy gymnema sylvestre?
In India, it’s readily available at food and Ayurvedic markets, since they regularly use it. In the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and other western countries it’s hard to find for sale. You can buy it at some health-oriented grocers and supplement stores, like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe.
The best brand of gymnema will be one that’s organic or that uses GS4 Plus. That’s the standardized extract from Sabinsa, who was the earliest pioneer in commercializing supplements for it, and hence, they have a long track record. GS4 Plus is not organic so if you want that, go with a trusted Ayurvedic brand like Himalaya, which has been around since 1930.