What is Gymnema?
Gymnema sylvestre is a woody vine plant that is native to India, Africa and Australia. It has historically been used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also often referred to as Gurmar, which means ‘sugar destroyer’ in Hindi. The leaves in particular have strong medicinal properties that can help manage diabetes and improve weight loss. While there aren’t many western studies on the effects of gymnema extract yet, this natural substance is still very promising as a supplement.
Natural gymnema supplements are typically available in tablet form. Historically, it was used in Indian culture to treat a variety of ailments, including malaria and snakebites. However, the most promising benefit of taking gymnema is that it can inhibit your body’s sugar absorption. This has become of particular interest to many people in the western world, where foods with a high sugar content are the norm. As more studies are completed, we can expect to see even more exciting uses for this tropical plant. For example, it also serves as an occasional ingredient in skincare products because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Gymnema extract has a wide range of known and possible benefits, many of which are related to its unique effects on sugar absorption. Its benefits extend to almost every area of health, making it a staple in ayurvedic medicine.
Lowers Blood Sugar
Gymnema can significantly lower blood sugar levels because of the way it absorbs sugar molecules. This makes it a particularly effective supplement for people with diabetes as one of the defining characteristics of diabetes is high blood sugar levels (x). After you eat, gymnema will prevent your body from absorbing the sugar molecules, so it naturally regulates your blood sugar levels. Additionally, it can improve the body’s production of insulin, which is a substance produced by the body that naturally lowers blood sugar levels (x). Diabetics and pre-diabetics typically don’t produce enough insulin, which makes it difficult to maintain proper levels. Gymnema supplements can help diabetics keep their blood sugar and insulin levels balanced.
Gymnema and Weight Loss
This is also a popular supplement for weight loss and healthy diet management. Because it naturally absorbs sugar, it makes sweet foods taste less satisfying (x). When consumed regularly, gymnema can reduce your desire for sugary, unhealthy foods, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet. Over time, this usually leads to weight loss. Studies on rats have shown very positive results for weight loss.
Another major benefit of gymnema supplements is that they can prevent heart disease. This is because it can lower your levels of unhealthy cholesterol by regulating your body’s fat absorption levels (x). When taken over time, this can prevent you from developing heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
Gymnema also may have anti-inflammatory properties, which is very helpful for maintaining your general health. It is high in tannins, which are naturally anti-inflammatory, and it can also stimulate the immune system, which helps your body reduce inflammation on its own (x). The sugar absorption qualities of the gymnema plant can also reduce inflammation in your digestive system because sugar can be inflammatory in high quantities.
Gymnema and Ayurvedic Medicine
In Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Indian culture, gymnema had many everyday uses. It acts as a natural diuretic and laxative, enabling your body to process food and drinks faster than normal (x). This could be part of why gymnema weight loss products are effective, although there haven’t been western studies on this benefit specifically.
This tropical plant was also used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat snakebites (x). Since there aren’t many western medicines for neutralizing snake venom, the gymnema plant is a viable natural solution. The saponins in gymnema can inhibit the cellular damage inflicted by snake venom (x). It also has antimicrobial properties, which helps keep the wound from becoming infected while it is open.
Gymnema is also a common treatment for malaria in India, Africa and other tropical countries where the disease is pervasive. Because gymnema has antiparasitic effects, it could work well for killing mosquitoes and preventing malaria (x). Taking it as a supplement before visiting an area where malaria is prevalent could help you stay safe.
Gymnema has also been a common treatment for cough and asthma (x). However, no western studies have been done on these results, so they cannot be guaranteed.
May Have Anticancer Benefits
While more studies are necessary regarding gymnema as an anticancer agent, it may play a role in preventing the deadly disease (x, x).
Did You Know?
- Gymnema has many other names — gurmar, Australian cowplant and Periploca of the woods.
- It usually comes in the form of a tea, powder or capsule. However, you can also find supplements in the form of a mouthwash or lozenge that can suppress your appetite for sugar.
- The part of the gymnema plant that is the most useful is the leaves. They are long, oval-shaped and green in color with very small yellow flowers in the middle of the plant.
- The sugar repression produced by gymnema can last anywhere from 15 to 50 minutes after consumption. Having a supplement or tea shortly before a meal can help you make healthier decisions.
Gymnema Side Effects
While there are a few side effects to taking gymnema extract, it is generally very safe.
If you are already taking medications that lower your blood sugar levels, it may not be safe to take a gymnema sylvestre supplement. The supplement could lower your levels past the point of safety, and you could experience dizziness, nausea and headaches as a result. You should avoid taking gymnema at the same time as insulin injections, aspirin or St. John’s Wort, all of which have blood thinning properties.
Of course, anyone with diabetes should be extremely careful when taking gymnema. Although it could have very positive effects, it could also be dangerous if not managed properly. Consult with your doctor about how to take it safely.
You should avoid taking gymnema powder if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as the safety of this supplement for pregnant women remains unclear. You should also stop taking these supplements at least two weeks before any surgery. Since it affects your blood sugar levels, it may be dangerous to consume before surgery because it could affect your cardiovascular system.
- Capsules: Take 100 milligrams three to four times daily. If you’re using it to curb sugar cravings, take it five to 10 minutes before a meal (x).
- Powder: As a dietary supplement, take 500 mg (scant 1/4 tsp) once daily, or as otherwise directed by a physician.
- Tea: Add tea to boiling water and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes for best results.
The Bottom Line
Gymnema is a highly effective natural supplement that can be quite beneficial for diabetes patients and those looking to lose weight. Its ability to reduce sugar cravings is very unique and has great potential to help manage obesity. Because it has very few side effects, it is a good supplement to pair with other treatments or medications. However, you should always consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplement.