Gymnema sylvestre is a climbing shrub from the forests of Australia, Africa, and India. It goes by many names in many tongues, including madhunashini, merasingi, meshashringi, “miracle plant,” Australian cowplant, Periploca of the woods, and the Hindi name gurmar (or gurmarin) which means “destroyer of sugar.” Long used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it has regained modern popularity as a natural product that may help lead to weight loss and a reduction of blood glucose levels. It’s also an effective aid for sugar detox. How does it work and what are the health benefits of G. sylvestre? Read on to find out.
Gymnema sylvestre is a plant that’s been used in Ayurveda traditions to treat ailments as diverse as malaria, diabetes, and snakebites. It’s also been known to function as a diuretic, a laxative, and a cough suppressant. However, when purchased as a dietary supplement, you’re more likely to find it as whole or powdered leaf extract, in or out of a capsule.
Unlike natural sweeteners like stevia or erythritol which help ween people from sugar as a sweet replacement, Gymnema sylvestre doesn’t have a sweet taste. It’s earned the moniker “sugar destroyer” because Gymnema sylvestre is thought to block the absorption of sugar (a benefit to those with diabetes mellitus) and interfere with a person’s ability to taste sweetness, making sugar consumption less desirable. The question is: does the science back up these claims?
Here are the modern scientific findings on this ancient and potentially important medicinal plant.
Let’s not bury the lede: can this plant make sugar taste less sweet? Yes, thanks to the active component gymnemic acid.
If you’ve ever struggled with maintaining a diet, it may have occurred to you that if only you couldn’t smell food, couldn’t taste it, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to resist. If only you could get a head cold for a week or two before some important event (like a wedding or a high school reunion). Then you wouldn’t be so maddened by food and sugar cravings and could look as slim as possible. Maybe after a couple stunning shots from a zinc nasal spray, the smell and taste of food would trouble you no more. The problem with those two drastic options is that one is bad for you, and the other irreversible. Gymnema sylvestre on the other hand is beneficial to your health, and its sugar-dampening effects are temporary.
When you ingest Gymnema sylvestre extracts before consuming a sugary drink or snack, gymnemic acid has the opportunity to block your taste buds’ sugar receptors. This suppresses your ability to taste sweet foods, rendering those foods less appealing so that you don’t take in as many calories. As one study phrased it, the “hedonistic aspects of taste” have more to do with the amount of calories consumed than the nutritional and energy aspects. Basically, if a food gives you pleasure, you’ll keep eating it even if you’re no longer hungry. If it isn’t a pleasure to eat, you’ll eat only as much as you must to cease your hunger; thus, the magical effects of Gymnema sylvestre on appetite suppression and weight loss.
Here are a few more scientific findings on Gymnema sylvestre extracts and weight loss. Results show that rats given a liquid extract of Gymnema sylvestre experienced reductions in body weight, leading researchers to conclude the supplement has an anti-obesity effect. Another animal study also found that rats eating a high-fat diet gained less weight if they were fed a Gymnema sylvestre extract.
These results carry over to human studies, as seen in this 2004 study of moderately-obese participants who experienced a 5-6% decrease in both food intake and body weight when given a Gymnema sylvestre extract. The calorie intake deficit leads to inevitable weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes cases are increasing across the globe according to the World Health Organization. Diabetes is a disease characterized by ineffective or low insulin levels coupled with high blood sugar levels.
In clinical trials on diabetic rats and mice, Gymnema sylvestre has been shown to increase insulin release and encourage the regeneration of islet cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. This ability to play a role in insulin secretion indicates Gymnema sylvestre can help your body clear sugar from the bloodstream at faster rates, thereby reducing blood sugar levels.
In humans, Gymnema sylvestre is safely paired with diabetes medications to gain these advantages and more. The gymnemic acid that can block the taste receptors of sugar also has the ability to block sugar receptors in your intestines and prevent the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream in the first place.
While Gymnema sylvestre is not able to manage diabetes all on its own, pairing it with doctor-prescribed medications helps lead to fewer side effects from the disease, less risk of obesity or metabolic syndrome, and lower blood sugar levels.
Gymnema sylvestre may contribute to lowering triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Not exclusive in managing sugar cravings and blood sugar levels, it can also influence blood lipid levels and the rate of fat absorption, as seen in this animal study that revealed Gymnema sylvestre extracts helped suppress fatty buildup in the liver, or in another where it lowered LDL cholesterol levels.
While most of the research on this (and many other) natural remedies is done on animal models due to lack of funding for non-pharmaceutical drug options, there is one human study from 2004 that found that Gymnema sylvestre extract helped decrease LDL cholesterol levels just as effectively as it did in the animal studies, as well as lower triglyceride levels and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol by as much as 22%.
HDL cholesterol can help move through the blood and collect the smaller LDL molecules before they start building up on our arterial walls and in our organs. Each of these aspects of lipid control displayed by Gymnema sylvestre supplementation contribute directly to overall heart health and a lower risk of cardiovascular danger.
Excessive inflammation is an exacerbating feature in many chronic diseases, including arthritis conditions, diabetes, and certain cancers. Sometimes inflammation can be caused by autoimmune attacks, and sometimes by environmental stressors or the poor quality of food we eat. That food specifically includes excessive sugar intake in both animal and human levels of inflammation.
Regardless of the cause, Gymnema sylvestre leaves are immunostimulatory, containing plant compounds that have the ability to help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation levels. The saponin and tannin content of Gymnema sylvestre act as anti-inflammatory agents, thus further improving the overall health of those with chronic conditions.
Many supplemental products are not closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so whether you’re consuming Gymnema sylvestre as a tea, powder, or capsules containing its leaves, be sure to take only as recommended. Dosages often come in 100-milligram capsules that can be taken up to 4 times a day; for powdered products that’s between 2 and 4 grams per day (less if you experience any unusual side effects), and no more than 10 minutes before eating.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children are not advised to take Gymnema sylvestre due to a lack of specific data for these populations. If you have an allergy to milkweed this plant product may trigger those symptoms. If you are taking any medications for blood sugar control, do not add Gymnema sylvestre to your regimen without first consulting your doctor in case it interferes with your prescriptions. Since Gymnema sylvestre is not a complete substitute for diabetes meds (only a potential complement to them), it’s important to consult with your doctor first. It is not advised to combine Gymnema sylvestre extracts with St. John’s Wort or aspirin as together they may have too aggressive an effect on your blood sugar levels.
Researchers have found that sugar addiction is a hard habit to break, and that the overconsumption of sugar leads to myriad health problems contributing to worldwide obesity and diabetes increases. Gymnema sylvestre supplementation, by helping to reduce the appeal of sweets and block the body’s absorption of sugar, could help stave off diabetes, and could help save those with diabetes from severe side effects and injury. If you’re interested in seeing what Gymnema sylvestre can do for you in terms of weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health, ask your doctor if it’s right for you, and potentially say sayonara to sugar without regret.