Gymnema is the name of an arboreal climber native to India and Pakistan. Its full botanical name is Gymnema silvestre and it belongs to the Asclepiadaceae family. It is also commonly known as Gimnema (without the Y). This plant reaches considerable heights and is also widespread in the tropical forests of Africa, where it is able to grow up to the tops of large trees. It has opposite leaves on both sides and petiolate, with an acrid and bitter taste. The flowers are yellow in the shape of a bell grouped in peduncles. This plant is traditionally used by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine which attribute it to beneficial properties such as reducing blood sugars and treating eye diseases. Indians have used it for centuries to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Its renowned hypoglycemic properties have earned it in the past the Hindi name "Gur-mar" which means "destroyer of sugars". In fact even today the gymnema it is called gurmar. The parts of the plant used for medicinal purposes are the leaves.
The hypoglycemic properties of gymnema have been known for centuries. This is because they are attributed to it by a very long popular tradition. But even current studies confirm these properties which are mainly due to a substance present in the leaves, gymnemic acid, which has a structure very similar to glucose, but with a larger molecule. The hypoglycemic effect of gymnena is expressed precisely with the action of the gymnemic acid molecule which is able to bind to glucose receptors in the intestine and block the absorption of glucose itself. The result of this mechanism is a significant reduction in blood sugar in diabetic patients. Other substances present in this plant are polyphenols and triterpene glycosides. Among all these substances, however, the active ingredient is precisely the gymnemic acid which acts according to the mechanism we have just indicated. Ayurvedic medicine uses gymnema leaves to treat eye diseases caused by opacification of the lens, such as cataracts, heart problems and hemorrhoids. Studies carried out on this plant reveal its benefits as regards the hypoglycemic action. However, blood glucose control is not only useful for diabetes, but also to keep all other diseases related to an excess of sugar in the blood at bay, such as excess weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, hypertension and consequent cardiovascular disorders. This is why gymnema can be a useful adjuvant in low-calorie diets or aimed at controlling blood sugar.
Silvestre gymnema extracts are marketed in capsule and tablet form. These products contain dry extract of the plant titrated to 25% gymnemic acid. The recommended dose for the capsules is three per day, to be taken on an empty stomach. The recommended dose for tablets is once twice a day, to be taken at least 15 minutes before main meals. These products are useful in case of non-insulin-dependent diabetes, to control blood sugar and in the case of slimming and low-calorie diets. In the case of diabetic patients taking oral hypoglycemic agents, these remedies could enhance their effects by causing hypoglycemic crises. Therefore, before taking gymnema-based products, the dosage of hypoglycemic drugs must be re-determined or adjusted. No cases of toxicity have been reported in the intake of the extracts of this plant, although in any case they are never to be excluded due to individual sensitivity. In case of overdose, laxative effects have been reported. To know the ideal intake dose, it is always advisable to consult your doctor and never exceed the doses established by him.
Silvestre gymnema-based products are purchased in the usual sales channels of herbal remedies, namely pharmacies, parapharmacies and e-commerce sites. This last sales channel seems very widespread with regards to gymnema-based products. The phenomenon is probably due to the fame of this plant which is also used to treat diabetes mellitus. But online purchases must always be done with good reason, to avoid buying unsafe products that could prove dangerous. In fact, gymnema, like other herbal remedies, is produced with titrated extract, that is, pure extract, because only the purity of an extract is able to guarantee its effectiveness. As for the costs of these products, we must immediately say that they are slightly higher than those referring to other plants, but the data can always be explained by the fame of this plant species. A pack of 60 tablets of 400 mg based on dry extract of gymnema costs 10 euros. A pack of 90 capsules based on the same extract costs 15 euros.