The Health Benefits of Gymnema Sylvestre

Promotes Healthy Blood Sugar and Reduces Sugar Cravings

Gymnema sylvestre leaves and powder

 Subrata Dutta / iStock / Getty Images

Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is a plant in the Apocynaceae family, well known in Ayurvedic medicine for its medicinal purposes. The plant is a perennial woody vine that is found in tropical regions of India, Africa, and Australia. Gymnema is a climbing plant with elongated, oval leaves that have soft hairs on the top surface. The plant has small, yellow flowers that are produced throughout the year.

The Hindi term for G. sylvestre is gurmar, which is translated as sugar destroyer. This is because Gymnema sylvestre leaves contain gymnemic acids, which are major bioactive ingredients that act to suppress the taste of sugar, by interacting with taste receptors on the tongue. This suppression of sugar taste is temporary, and it has been found to be useful in treating diabetes, particularly in Ayurvedic practice.

Another reason that G. sylvestre is considered a sugar destroyer is because it is thought to inhibit sugar absorption in the body, thus, the plant has appeared in many research studies, evaluating its effectiveness for the treatment of weight loss and diabetes in Western medicine as well as in India.

 Other names for gymnema include Australian cowplant and periploca of the woods.

Health Benefits

Gymnema sylvestre is said to lower sugar cravings, while reducing the rate at which sugar is absorbed into the body, potentially providing a two-fold action to combat weight gain and diabetes.

Diabetes is a common disorder caused by the body’s inability to utilize (or produce) insulin properly. Lack of insulin—or lack of insulin’s efficiency—results in high blood sugar; this is because insulin is a hormone that is responsible for moving the glucose (blood sugar) from the blood, into the cell, to be used for energy.

Many people take insulin or other blood sugar medication that helps the body more efficiently regulate glucose levels, but a natural plant supplement, like G. sylvestre may help. What does the research say?

There have been some significant research studies on the health benefits of Gymnema sylvestre for:

  • Improving blood sugar levels
  • Maintaining healthy weight: A 2017 study involving 60 moderately-obese study participants who were given gymnema, reports a 5% to 6% decrease in body weight along with a lower food intake.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of insulin

Studies

A 2017 study suggested that taking 200 to 400 milligrams (mg) of gymnemic acid (the active ingredient in G. sylvestre) reduced absorption of glucose (sugar) in the intestines.

In a 2010 study, type 2 diabetic study participants were given 500 mg of Gymnema sylvestre a day for 3 months. The study findings included:

  • Reduced symptoms of diabetes (including fatigue and thirst)
  • Reduced blood glucose (sugar) levels (including fasting blood sugar as well as post-prandial—after meals).
  • Reduced glycated hemoglobin (a form of hemoglobin that is bound to glucose)
  • Improvement in lipid (fat) levels

“These findings suggest a beneficial effect of GS [Gymnema sylvestre] in the management of diabetes mellitus,” said the study authors.

A 2004 study involving moderately-obese people showed that gymnema extract decreased bad cholesterol (LDL) by over 20% and increased good cholesterol (HDL) by 22%.

A 2017 study discovered that those who were given a lozenge containing gymnemic acids, ate 44% less sweets than those who took a placebo.  Study author, Eric Stice, PhD explained, “We found that participants who took a placebo versus a Sweet Defeat lozenge were 430 percent more likely to eat candy immediately afterward.”

Health Promoting Properties

Common health-promoting properties of G. sylvestre are said to include:

  • Promoting digestive health
  • Reducing fats and triglycerides
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Increasing fluid (urine) output (diuretic)
  • Decreasing sugar cravings
  • Lowering blood glucose levels

Note, these properties have not been definitively backed up by medical research, although some preliminary studies on the health-promoting properties of Gymnema sylvestre seem promising. More research is needed before G. sylvestre can be used as a safe and effective treatment for high cholesterol, digestive health, to treat inflammation, for fluid retention or more.

More clinical research studies are needed to prove Gymnema sylvestre’s effectiveness for the treatment of:

  • Obesity (weight loss)
  • Indigestion (and other digestive disorders)
  • Constipation (as a stool softener)
  • Cough
  • Infections
  • Arthritis
  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Snake bites
  • Malaria
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes

Caution

People with diabetes should never stop taking their insulin or oral hypoglycemic (blood sugar) medicine without the approval of the prescribing physician or other health care provider. Anyone, including those with diabetes, should consult with their health care provider before taking Gymnema sylvestre for any condition, including weight loss and appetite suppression.

How It Works

Gymnema sylvestre is thought to increase the amount of insulin in the body, possibly by improving cell growth in the pancreas (this is where insulin is produced). Gymnema sylvestre is also thought to lower the amount of sugar that gets absorbed from the intestines  (where digestion of food and absorption of nutrients occurs). The tannins and saponins in Gymnema sylvestre are phytochemicals (active compounds in plants) that are said to have anti-inflammatory abilities, to help fight inflammation in the body.

The active compound in the gymnema plant is a group of acids, called gymnemic acid. Studies have shown a possible link between gymnemic acids, obesity and diabetes.

Possible Side Effects

Common Side Effects

Some side effects can occur as a direct result of gymnema’s blood sugar lowering effects, these include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea

Contraindications

Although Gymnema sylvestre is generally considered safe for most people, there are some situations (referred to as contraindications) in which the herbal supplement should not be taken, these include;

  • During pregnancy
  • In children and infants
  • For people with diabetes (unless approved by a professional health care provider)
  • While breastfeeding
  • While taking other blood sugar lowering medications (unless under the supervision of the health care provider).
  • Before having surgery (Gymnema sylvestre can lower blood sugar levels, which could interfere with blood sugar control during surgery; discontinue the use of Gymnema sylvestre at least two weeks before having a planned surgical procedure.

Special Precautions and Warnings

There is not enough clinical research evidence to support the safe use of Gymnema sylvestre during pregnancy, while breastfeeding or for children or infants. Another safety precaution is linked to milkweed allergies. Those who are allergic to milkweed may have a reaction to gymnema as well.

Drug Interactions

Gymnema sylvestre should not be taken with specific drugs or other supplements, these include:

Insulin: Insulin may potentiate the blood sugar lowering effect of Gymnema sylvestre (those taking insulin should contact their health care provider before taking gymnema, the insulin dose may need to be changed).

Antidiabetes drugs: Although Gymnema sylvestre may improve insulin levels and promote healthy blood sugar levels, taking the herbal supplement with other anti-diabetes medication such as Amaryl (glimepiride), insulin, Diabinese (chlorpropamide), Glucotrol (glipizide), Orinase (tolbutamide), DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase (glyburide), and others, may result in a hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Always monitor the blood sugar very closely. People taking antidiabetic medications should only take Gymnema sylvestre under the direction and supervision of a medical professional/ health care provider.

Dosage and Preparation

As with other herbal supplements, the proper dose of Gymnema sylvestre depends on many different factors. These include age, overall health level, condition being treated, and more. Although many studies have been conducted, the precise, safe and effective dose of Gymnema sylvestre has not yet been well established. Always follow the direction of the prescribing health care provider and the package insert on all herbal supplements, including Gymnema sylvestre.

Preparation

Traditionally, Gymnema sylvestre has been used by making a tea or chewing on the leaves of the plant. It is also available as an extract or leaf powder form. Supplemental tablets and capsules have been made (particularly for use in Western medicine). This ensures more accurate control of the dose, which is very important, particularly in clinical research studies.

A tea is commonly made for use in controlling the appetite and specifically for treatment of obesity.

Dosage

Gymnema sylvestre is considered possibly safe when taken in the recommended dosages, such as 200 to 400 milligrams (mg) per day. However, high dosages may be toxic and there is one report of toxic hepatitis in a patient with diabetes mellitus.

Dosages that have been commonly used include:

  • For a tea: Boil the leaves of the Gymnema sylvestre plant for 5 minutes, then steep them in the boiling water for 15 minutes before ingesting the tea.
  • Powder: Begin taking 2 grams and gradually increase to 4 grams of powder as tolerated
  • Capsules: 100 mg three to four times each day
  • For sugar blocking effects: Take Gymnema sylvestre supplement up 5 to 10 minutes before eating high sugar foods

What to Look For

Although Gymnema sylvestre is considered safe when taken in the proper doses, it’s important to keep in mind that herbal supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that a person must be particularly cautious when selecting an herbal product to ensure it is pure, and that the dose is safe. 

Some nutrition specialists recommend using the extract form of Gymnema sylvestre and not the raw powder form, because they say that the raw powder may not provide any glucose lowering effects. 

Look for an extract that is standardized to contain at least 25% gymnemic acid.

Other Questions

How long does it take for Gymnema sylvestre to stop sugar cravings?

One of the most impressive benefits of G. sylvestre is that it begins to work very quickly. In fact, studies have discovered that it takes just 30 seconds from the time the herbal supplement is initially taken to begin to take effect. 

How long does the sugar blocking effect of Gymnema sylvestre last? 

The sugar blocking effect of Gymnea is not permanent, it is estimated to last up to one hour from the time the herbal supplement is taken.

Does Gymnema sylvestre tea taste good?

Gymnema is said to have a slightly bitter flavor (similar to morninga tea). This is common with many medicinal herbal teas. However, it has also been described as having an intense, earthy flavor and some tea drinkers say it tastes good, so it’s up to a person’s individual taste. Adding honey, or other natural sweeteners will help to improve the taste, for those who find it bitter tasting.

A Word from Verywell

Although early research shows a lot of promise, regarding the effectiveness of Gymnema sylvestre in lowering blood sugar and promoting weight loss, more research studies are needed to definitively prove its safety and effectiveness, particularly for treating diabetes. These may include double-blind placebo studies, with numerous participants, over a long period of time (sometimes called longitudinal studies). The medical research must show that the drug is safe and effective on a consistent basis, not, simply for a small sampling of people, in a short time span. 

Insufficient medical research evidence does not mean that Gymnema sylvestre is unsafe or that it doesn’t work to help promote healthy blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings. But caution should be exercised, and a professional health care provider should be consulted before taking Gymnema sylvestre or any other herbal medicine.

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Article Sources

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