11 November 2008

Indigenous plant helps diabetics

Diabetics will now be able to use a natural herbal supplement containing the extract of an indigenous medicinal plant to assist them in managing their blood-sugar levels.

Diabetics will now be able to use a natural herbal supplement containing the extract of an indigenous medicinal plant, the Sutherlandia frutescens, to assist them in managing their blood-sugar levels.

The supplement, called ProBetix, has been developed by Eastern Cape neutraceutical manufacturer Value Added Life following groundbreaking research conducted by a team of researchers at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth. The researchers found that a Sutherlandia frutescens extract lowered the blood-sugar levels of diabetic rats, reversed their insulin resistance and decreased intestinal glucose uptake.

Sutherlandia frutescens, also known as "cancer bush", is a hardy herbal plant that has for over a century been used by local people as a medicinal plant for treating a variety of ailments, including diabetes.

The research study
The aim of the NMMU study was to verify the claims made for diabetes treatment and to investigate the safety of the plant’s usage. Their scientific experiments were conducted over six years with financial assistance from the National Research Foundation and Value Added Life.

Using a specific Sutherlandia frutescens extract, the team managed to reduce the blood sugar levels of diabetic rats to normal within a few days. Rats were used since the development of diabetes in these animals is very similar to that occurring in humans.

The results of the findings were published in the scientific Journal of Ethnopharmacology (109 (2007) 121–127). The research has been peer reviewed and found to be scientifically sound. It has also been independently verified by scientists in other parts of the world.

The University of the Western Cape in 2007 undertook a clinical toxicity study on the plant and declared it safe for human use.

Blood-sugar levels remain stable
Dr Saartjie Roux, who conducted the research alongside Dr Maryna van de Venter and a team of post-graduate students from the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at NMMU, also found that the rats’ blood-sugar levels remained stable and within normal range and that the levels didn't drop too low, as is often the case when diabetics accidentally inject too much insulin.

When investigating the plant’s interaction with a popular type-2 diabetes medication, the researchers found that Sutherlandia frutescens decreased intestinal glucose uptake more significantly than the medication. No drug interactions or unwanted side effects were evident when administered simultaneously with the diabetics drug.

The researchers also studied the effects of Sutherlandia frutescens on blood sugar when insulin was administered simultaneously, and found that the blood sugar remained at stable, normal levels and neither compound was influenced by the other.

The study showed that Sutherlandia frutescens can restore a pre-diabetic state (the various earlier stages before full-blown diabetes develops) to normal levels of blood glucose and insulin. It further established that Sutherlandia frutescens could reverse insulin resistance by increasing glucose uptake by muscle and fat tissue.

Specific combo is key
Dr Roux stressed that the extraction process was key to obtaining the specific combination of compounds from the Sutherlandia plant. She said that the content and efficacy of herbal medicine made from the same plant species were known to vary.

Since the studies at NMMU were conducted with a specific extract, it could not be assumed that all products made from Sutherlandia will have the same effects.

ProBetix can be found at leading pharmacies countrywide.

Source: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Trust, November 2008


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