The Mulberry Leaf: One of Nature's Answers to Type 2 Diabetes

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According to government data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people living with diabetes in America is growing at an alarming rate, up by three million cases, from 21 million to 24 million, in the past two years. Approximately 90 percent of those patients have type 2 diabetes mellitus. Formerly called non-insulin-dependent, or adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is linked to poor diet, obesity, and a lack of exercise.

In managing type 2 diabetes and its associated health problems, eating right is critical. However, making the right diet and lifestyle choices can often be difficult for many patients because of the large amount of sugars and finely processed carbohydrates that constitute the American diet. A diet loaded with refined carbohydrates and starches can set off unpredictable blood sugar fluctuations, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other circulatory problems.

For type 2 diabetic patients, the body's ability to respond to the absorbed sugars and carbohydrates no longer functions properly; patients experience abrupt blood glucose elevations right after a meal. This condition is often referred to as a post-meal (postprandial) blood sugar spike. However, levels in some patients can go lower than immediately after the spikes because of the body's "overreaction" to blood sugar elevation, resulting in blood sugar fluctuations from high to low.

These fluctuations are often mentioned as the leading cause of diabetic complications. In order to manage the disease, the average patient with type 2 diabetes relies on two to three different prescription medications, many of which have troubling side effects, including weight gain.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in natural remedies that can help manage type 2 diabetes. One natural ingredient has shown particular promise: the mulberry leaf. Mulberry leaves are the food source of silkworms and have been used for generations in traditional Chinese medicine as a "cooling" herb to remove excess heat from the body. The leaf is also used in some Indian foods. The biggest benefit of mulberry is its ability to help stabilize blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.

Published clinical trials conducted at the University of Minnesota Veterans Affairs Hospital showed that a particular mulberry leaf extract stabilized blood glucose levels and inhibited carbohydrate absorption in type 2 diabetic patients by reducing the body's absorption of sugars and other carbohydrates.

The extract also decreased spikes after meals and stabilized blood sugar levels: One study reported an average reduction of 44 percent in peak after-meal blood sugar elevations. Another clinical trial found that a tea drink consisting mainly this extract brought about a 25 percent reduction in carbohydrate absorption in humans.

A specific mulberry leaf extract was used in these trials. The health benefits of mulberry leaves can vary greatly, according to the leaf's properties and the extraction methods used. The extract used in these trials demonstrated superior blood glucose control and other anti-diabetic properties, even when compared with some oral pharmaceutical medications.

The good news, according to the American Diabetes Association, is that type 2 diabetes can be controlled or even reversed by diet and exercise. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, together with a loss of 5 to 10 percent body weight, can cause a 58 percent reduction in diabetes.

The mulberry leaf extract appears to play an important role in reducing the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, because it promotes better blood glucose control and weight management. When fewer carbohydrates and sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, it is it easier to achieve a healthier weight.

(Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006; 84: 551-555; and Diabetes Care, 2007; 30:1272-1274.)
(Editor's note: The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Readers should consult with their physicians before taking mulberry leaf extract or any other supplement.)

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE)

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By Lee Zhong, M.D., Ph.D.

Lee Zhong, M.D., Ph.D., has spent the last several years investigating the mulberry leaf's effects on type 2 diabetes.

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