Monday, August 21, 2006

Chinese herbs and t2dm

It is well known that the ancient Chinese almanacs are full of reports of chinese herbs that can cure diabetes, especially what we call type 2 Diabetes mellitus (T2DM).

Just to remind everyone - diabetes is a disease characterised by raised blood sugar as a result of a lack of insulin, or inability of the body to utilise what ever insulin is available (insulin resisitance). Insulin, to begin with, is the enzyme, secreted by the pancreas, whose action is to regulate the level of sugar in the blood by directing the entry and exit of blood sugar into and out of cells especially muscle cells and liver cells. It also plays an important role in fat metabolism, allowing some to lose weight.

If the pancreas can not produce sufficient level of insulin (insulin lack) then stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin is one course of action, although this action will soon exhaust the pancreatic beta-cells that produces the insulin.

If there is sufficient circulating insulin, or even higher than normal amount of insulin, but the muscle and liver cells are resistant to insulin action (insulin resistance) then blood sugar levels will also remain high. This usually happen in people who are obese, as fat cell can produce hormones which cause insulin resistance. There also may be associated hypertansion and fat abnormality.

Some Chinese herbs contain a substance call beberine, which facilitates the action of insulin, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. Beberine also lowers fats and so also allows the patient to lose weight. How ideal. These actions were studied by researchers in Sydney and published in the journal Diabetes. They gave beberine to rodents who showed lower blood sugar and weight loss.

Beberine is found in barberry, the oregon grape and the goldenseal. No one should go out and trade their diabetic medication in for oregon grape. Much more work needs to be done, and the beberine from the herbs purified. More importantly, the side effects must be known so that we know who not to use it for.

The medical drugs that work almost like beberine is Avandia or rosiglitazone or other members of the "glitazone" family. Metformin and the biguanides are the other well used insulin sensitisers.

The fact that many chinese herbs may have medical benefits obviously merits more work. What more, since they cannot be patent protected, they may also become a cheaper source of therapy. I am sure the big pharmas out there will be trying to extract the active ingredients, modify them and then patent them. Then the price will go up. I hope that this will not be so. For the moment, beberine from the chinese almanac is our cheap hope for T2DM.

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