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Ginseng shows favorable results in limited diabetes study


April 12, 2000
Web posted at: 3:41 p.m. EDT (1941 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- In a study of diabetes, patients who took ginseng had a notable reduction in blood-sugar response after consuming a simulated meal, an American Medical Association journal reported this week.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, involved nine people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes (also called Type 2 diabetes) and 10 people without diabetes. The scientists acknowledged that the sampling was small for a medical comparison.

Over several weeks, each test participant received four treatments of three grams of American ginseng or of harmless placebo capsules. Then a test meal of 25 grams of the sugar glucose was given in water.

The amount of glucose was similar to a "small breakfast," said the research-team leader, Vladimir Vuksan, Ph.D., department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto.

Blood samples were taken from test participants for two hours after the treatments. The results were "a 20 percent reduction -- a moderate reduction of blood glucose," Vuksan said.

A goal of diabetes treatment is to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range, according to the American Diabetes Association. The disease allows blood glucose to rise well above normal and, over many years, to damage eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and other organs.

Dr. Suzanne Gebhart, a diabetes specialist at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, said she was pleased to see scientific studies conducted on nontraditional approaches to controlling the disease.

Ginseng, because it is plant material, may slow the rate that food is moved from the stomach and is digested in the small intestines, she said.

The Toronto study would have been more meaningful if insulin levels had been tested in the participants and if the test meal had been more representative of what people eat, she added.

"Ginseng is interesting. There's a lot to try to understand about it," said Dr. Gebhart, adding that to date there is insufficient information to rely on ginseng for treatment of diabetes.

Vuksan called his study, which used American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L), "a good first step." Long-term research is under way to learn whether ginseng treatment produces any liver or kidney damage, headaches or sleepliness and any other side effects, he said.

Work by Vuksan and his associates was partially sponsored by Chai-Na-Ta Corp., which markets ginseng. The report in Archives of Internal Medicine, an AMA journal, was peer reviewed.

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Archives of Internal Medicine
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
FDA/CFSAN Office of Special Nutritionals: Information about Dietary Supplements
American Herbal Products Association

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