Scientific Backing for Traditional Chinese Medicine for Diabetes

PureInsight | December 31, 2006

Reports about a traditional Chinese medicine having beneficial effects
for people suffering from type 2 diabetes now has some scientific
evidence to back up the claims. Collaboration between Chinese, Korean,
and Australian scientists at Sydney's Garvan Institute has revealed
that the natural plant product berberine could be a valuable new

Berberine is found in the roots and bark of a number of plants used for
medicinal purposes including wound healing and treatment of diarrhea.
It has also been documented in Chinese literature as having a glucose
lowering effect when administered to people with diabetes; yet, until
now, its mode of action was unknown.

Garvan scientist Dr Jiming Ye says: "Our studies in animal models of
diabetes show that berberine acts in part by activating an enzyme in
the muscle and liver that is involved in improving sensitivity of the
tissue to insulin -- this in turn helps lower blood sugar levels. In
addition, it seems berberine can help reduce body weight".

Current medicines for treating type 2 diabetes include metformin and
the TZD group of drugs. However, a large number of patients cannot
tolerate metformin and the TZDs can cause undesirable weight gain.
Therefore, it is critical to develop new therapies to treat type 2
diabetes, which is a growing health problem.

"Berberine has been used for decades, if not centuries, with few
reported side effects. Given the limitations of existing medicines we
are excited to have evidence that berberine may be a helpful new
treatment for type 2 diabetes; however, despite its widespread use in
traditional medicine practices, it will still have to be evaluated
properly following the defined clinical trials process", said Professor
James, head of the Garvan's Diabetes & Obesity Research Program and
co-author of the Diabetes paper.

The next step is to investigate how berberine activates the enzyme that
mediates these 'insulin-sensitizing' effects. It has also been reported
to have anti-microbial, antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties when
given orally.

This study was published in the August issue of Diabetes.
The title was: "Berberine, a natural plant product, activates
AMP-activated protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in
diabetic and insulin resistant states."


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