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Traditional Chinese Medicine Hones Diabetes Treatment

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A herbal remedy Berberine used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine may have a role to play in fighting Type 2 diabetes.

A team of Chinese, South Korean and Australian scientists working at the Garvan Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that a plant extract known as berberine helps insulin work better in diabetic mice, thereby easing the symptoms of the disease.
Berberine is found in the roots and bark of several medicinal plants, including goldenseal and barberry. (Huanglian is the Chinese name of a berberine-containing plant.)

Insulin is normally secreted into the bloodstream after we eat, to help push incoming sugar into our tissues, particularly muscle and fat cells. For people with Type 2 diabetes, the process goes awry: Either they don't produce enough insulin or the body tissues don't respond to the hormone.

The new research, published in the journal Diabetes, suggest that berberine helps insulin do its job.

"Our studies in animal models of diabetes show that berberine acts, in part, by activating an enzyme in the muscle and liver called AMPK that is involved in improving sensitivity of the tissue to insulin," the lead researcher, Dr. David James, said in an e-mail interview. What's more, "berberine assists with the removal of circulating fats [in the bloodstream], thereby helping to reduce body weight," he said.

Dr. James noted that medications are available to treat insulin resistance, but many patients find the drugs cause unpleasant side effects. "Our hope is that berberine will provide a better alternative."

So, does this mean that diabetics should now be using herbal remedies such as goldenseal? Not necessarily, Dr. James said. The amount of berberine in these products can vary greatly. For their study, the researchers used a purified form of the compound. And a lot more studies are needed before a berberine-based drug can be recommended to patients.



Source: Diabetes In Control: Diabetes, July 2006

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