A systematic review by the University of Nottingham on Ayurvedic treatments suggests that natural medicine—original to India—may be effective in treating symptoms of type 2 diabetes (T2D), particularly in regulation of blood sugar.
“Current evidence suggests the benefits of a range of Ayurvedic medicines in improving glycemic [blood sugar] control in type 2 diabetes patients,” said Dr. Kaushik Chattopadhyay, lead author of the study.
Ayurveda is a form of natural medicine that has a holistic view of health; believing balance is needed between the body, mind, and consciousness to prevent and treat illness. Apart from changes to exercise and lifestyle, practitioners of the medicine may prescribe herbs and minerals commonly seen in diets to improve the health of their patients.
The team found most of the effective prescribed treatments induced better control of blood sugar; including sesame, bitter melon, sweet potato, garlic, fenugreek, purslane, common nettle, and many native plants to India or common to tropical regions.
Aloe vera was found to reduce body mass index (BMI) score by 2.8 kg/m2 and pomegranate juice was found to lower systolic blood pressure.
Further, turmeric, cumin, and dill—a plant of the celery family—were also observed to improve insulin sensitivity as well as reduce LDL cholesterol.
Turmeric was further noted to significantly reduce fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol, commonly known as the “bad cholesterol,” as elevated levels of it was a risk factor for diseases such as T2D and cardiovascular disease.
Fenugreek was also found to have significant benefits in improving blood sugar levels, the herb also stimulated sensitivity to insulin and lowered BMI levels.
Whilst the findings of the study demonstrated that Ayurvedic prescriptions do have benefits on T2D, the authors noted that most of the studies were not done with proper scientific methodology, and therefore impacted the accuracy and reliability of the findings.
To find valid studies backed by scientific evidence, the researchers had to look through over 32,500 studies, only returning with 144 studies that were eligible.
Additionally, most of the studies did not take note of any side effects, with those that did only noting down minimal or no side effects at all even though it is known that Ayurvedic patients have an association with lead poisoning due to some of the prescriptions they are given.
The team suggested randomized and controlled trials as well as blinding both the patients and the clinicians from knowing the treatment administered for a more accurate result.
Though in the United States, Ayurveda is considered an alternative medicine. In India where the practice originates from, the medicine is considered a form of medical care equal to conventional Western medicine.
Practitioners of Ayurveda in India need to undergo state-recognized, institutionalized training.
However, in the United States, Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed as medical practitioners, with no national standard for training or certification, though Ayurvedic schools have gained approval as educational institutions in some states.
Further, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also previously issued warnings on the potential harms of the medicine, as some of the medical preparations include metals and minerals and their presence in some products may make the treatment potentially harmful.
Ayurveda treats patients through lifestyle interventions such as diets, yoga, and breathing exercises. The practice is known for its detoxifying and purifying therapies, mineral-based treatments as well as the use of medicines that originate from plants and animals that may be consumed as part of the diet.
The researchers speculate that patients of Ayurvedic medicine may turn to the treatment as an option when they prefer not to use Western medicine due to concern over the associated side effects, costs, as well as mode of administration such as concern over injections.
The study identified that most of the patients undertaking the treatment identify with the practice through their health beliefs and culture and therefore amongst patients there is high acceptability, satisfaction, and perceived improvements with the treatment.
The patient demographic of this practice is mostly amongst rural, older, and indigenous minority groups.
The study was published in Frontiers of Pharmacology on June 8, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.