For over 2,000 years, Ayurveda and homeopathy have recognised the unusual benefits of Gymnema sylvestre. This woody climbing plant, that grows in the tropical forests of central and southern India, has been used as an anti-diabetic, a diuretic, a tonic – and for treating stomach upsets.
Because of its property of abolishing the taste of sugar, this herb was given the name of ‘gur-maar’ meaning ‘sugar-destroyer. It is also called “meshasringi”, meaning ‘ram’s horn’ – alluding perhaps to the shape of its fruit. In English this herb is called “Periploca of the Woods”; and “wald-schlinge” in German.
In ancient India, powdered Gymnema roots were applied on affected areas to cure allergies, insect bites and snake bites; and the leaves were chewed, for ailments such as constipation, stomach problems, liver disease, and diabetes. It has a mild laxative effect, probably due to its anthraquinone content, which irritates the bowel walls.
When chewed, the leaves have the astonishing property of eliminating our taste sensitivity for sweet and bitter substances. Gymnema leaf extract, especially the peptide ‘Gurmarin’, has been found to interfere with the natural functioning of the taste buds on the tongue. Gymnemic acid has a similar effect. It is believed that by inhibiting the sweet taste sensation, people taking it will limit their intake of sweet foods. In addition, Gurmaar blocks the receptor-sites for sugar in the digestive system, resulting in a decrease in blood sugar. The combined benefits from these is what attributes to Gymnema’s hypoglycemic effect.
Tip of the week
Eating meals at regular intervals is key. Waiting too long between meals may lead you to choose sugary, fatty foods as a means of instant gratification, to assuage the pangs of hunger. Instead, eating smaller meals every three to five hours can help keep blood sugar stable, and help avoid irrational eating.
It is advisable that the Gymnema herb, or supplements containing it, is taken with some food – as it may result in some kind of gastrointestinal problems when ingested on an empty stomach.
Nature’s Wonder Food of the week: Gymnema Sylvestre or ‘Gur-maar’
Gurmaar leaves contain a combination of constituents, that yield the benefits for which Gymnema has been relied upon for thousands of years. In addition to helping curb the desire for sweets, it is believed Gymnema may restore the pancreatic function.
Gurmaar can also be good for kidney health. The kidneys help remove toxins from the body. Over time, the kidneys can become damaged or enlarged, due to unhealthy practices. Adding Gurmaar extract to our diet can improve the kidney performance.
Gymnema sylvestre is safe for most people. However, there are a few groups of people who are cautioned against consuming the herb. These include women who are pregnant and lactating, as well as those who are taking anti-diabetic medication and prescription antidepressants. Herbal supplements should be taken under the guidance of a medical practitioner.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist
(Canadian School of Natural Nutrition)
For education purposes only; always consult a healthcare practitioner for medical conditions