X Close


Sunday January 20, 2013

The power of three

Cinnamon, alone or with honey, has been used
for ages as a traditional remedy for diabetes. Cinnamon, alone or with honey, has been used for ages as a traditional remedy for diabetes.

Three evidence-based nutritional therapies for diabetes.

IN my previous article, I shared some herbal and nutritional therapies for diabetes, most of which do not have proper scientific studies done, but are used based on traditional and current experience of consumers and health professionals (including medical doctors).

Today, I will share three nutritional therapies that are backed by scientific studies.

Bitter gourd and polypeptide-k

Bitter gourd (bitter melon) has long been used as traditional herbal medicine for improving blood sugar levels in many countries, across many continents. The traditional use is to consume the juice of four to five gourds as a drink, or to consume the raw fruit.

As the name suggests, the bitter taste can be a problem for many to judiciously consume it in the long term. Regular consumption may cause stomach discomfort, abdominal pain or diarrhoea. Taking too much may also cause liver toxicity.

Pregnant and nursing women, and those with G6PD deficiency, should not take bitter gourd at all.

With technology, bitter gourd extracts have been made available in capsule form. These are presumably extracts from the juice or fruit as it was long believed that it is the flesh that contains the active ingredients.

Bitter gourd reduced blood glucose levels in several research studies conducted in both animal and human studies. Some of these studies reported that bitter gourd improves glucose metabolism and tolerance (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center).

A 1996 clinical trial found that bitter gourd is effective in helping to treat diabetes (reported in Phytomedicine).

Studies published in Phytotherapy Research in 1993 and the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1986 also reported that bitter gourd has anti-diabetic effects on glucose tolerance, and may treat type 2 diabetes.

A 1982 study in Germany found that bitter gourd affected insulin release.

Besides lowering glucose levels, animal studies also show that bitter gourd improves blood lipid levels (study published in Journal of Medicinal Food, June 2010). Bitter gourd decreased triglycerides and LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol, and increased HDL, or “good”. cholesterol levels.

Another positive finding was that bitter gourd has antioxidant activity, which protects cells from free radicals that are abundant in diabetes.

With further advances in science, several key active ingredients have been identified. Some of these active ingredients reduce blood glucose in a similar way to insulin, albeit in a much weaker way. They also improve cellular sensitivity to native insulin.

Bitter gourd reduced blood
glucose levels in several research
studies conducted in both animal
and human studies. Bitter gourd reduced blood glucose levels in several research studies conducted in both animal and human studies.

After three decades of research, a local company has succeeded in identifying what is probably the most active glucose-controlling ingredient in bitter gourd. It is a polypeptide extracted from the seeds, instead of the fruit. Note that most traditional recipes exclude the seeds from the concoction because the seeds are covered by a toxin that causes diarrhoea.

This active ingredient, called polypeptide-K, has 33% similarity in amino acid sequence to human insulin, and therefore, is appropriately called “plant insulin”.

Fortunately, the company has made polypeptide-K available in tablet form. The dose for diabetics is four times a day, 10 minutes before food. It is to be taken sublingually (put under the tongue) because oral ingestion will lead the stomach acids to destroy the peptide. The bonus is that it is not bitter at all.

It has been used locally for over 10 years with good results. Patients (not all) have reported being able to reduce their drug dosages, including insulin.

A local doctor claims to have gathered a series of 100 patients treated with polypeptide-K (including consuming a polypeptide-K-enriched diet), who were able to be taken completely off their insulin injections.

I hope the results on this series of patients will be published, so that we have a more objective evaluation of its effectiveness.

Polypeptide-K can be used for diabetic patients on oral drugs or insulin injections, who wish to try to prevent increases in their dosages, or want to reduce their dosages.

Unlike raw bitter gourd, polypeptide-K is free from any side effects. It can be used by pre-diabetics to prevent progression to overt diabetes. In fact, it can even be used by healthy people who are at risk of becoming diabetic.

Polypeptide-K has now been included as an ingredient in gourmet bread, pasta, noodles and as food additive for diabetics to help prevent prolonged glucose surges after their meals. These enriched foods are called functional foods, as they have ingredients that are proven to improve health.

A local study on healthy individuals showed that those who consumed bread infused with polypeptide-K had their blood glucose levels returning to normal in 110 minutes (average), compared to 190 minutes in controls (consumed ordinary bread). I hope the researchers repeat the study on diabetic patients as well.

GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor)

GTF was discovered by Dr Schwartz and his colleagues way back in 1957. However, we did not hear much about it until research on it was rekindled by scientists in the United Kingdom and Taiwan recently.

GTF was first discovered in Brewer’s yeast, and was shown to reduce glucose levels in early animal studies.

It is made of biologically-active trivalent chromium, together with vitamins and amino acids. It stimulates insulin secretion and insulin-receptor sensitivity to the hormone. It thus, encourages glucose transport into the cells, and lowers plasma glucose levels.

Our GTF level is highest during the infancy and childhood growth stages, then steadily declines with age. Other factors that cause GTF level to decline are stress, obesity, pregnancy, alcohol, pollution, high fat and high sugar foods, lack of exercise, surgery, and various diseases.

Chromium supplementation has been used by naturopaths and nutritional therapists as a way to combat diabetes for many decades, but all the studies so far have produced equivocal results.

Understanding that it is trivalent chromium, which is biologically active, and is the main component of GTF, allows us to zoom into using the right form of chromium for improving glucose control.

Trivalent chromium exists naturally in food (eg egg yolk, broccoli, meat, Brewer’s yeast, etc), but the amount is small, and absorption is also poor.

Researchers in Taiwan discovered that mother’s milk contains abundant trivalent chromium in a stable form (lactoferrin chromium), which is also easily absorbed. That is why breastfeeding infants get plenty of it.

Using modern technology, the researchers have succeeded in producing lactoferrin chromium from cow’s milk, which is almost identical to that from mother’s milk. Taking lactoferrin chromium is expected to boost our GTF to healthy levels.

The product is now available as GTF milk powder or in capsules. Clinical (human) studies done in Taiwan have shown that the product significantly reduces fasting, as well as two-hour postprandial (after meal) blood glucose.

In addition, animal studies also show that GTF improves liver function and protects against fatty liver disease. GTF has anti-inflammatory properties; improves antioxidant enzyme activity; and improves Sirt1 longevity gene expression. All these could help delay ageing and a host of chronic diseases.

GTF was shown to protect against heart and brain infarction (tissue death). It also helps in weight management through modulation of leptin (one of the hormones that modify hunger sensation). Let us hope human studies will confirm this amazing array of benefits that GTF provides.

It is safe, and has no known side effects.

If you are diabetic and would like to try polypeptide-K or GTF, you should discuss it with your doctor first. You should not modify your drug dosages by yourself; your doctor should do that, should it become necessary.

Sometimes, it may take two to three weeks before any improvement is seen. You should plan to try for at least one month before deciding if it works for you.


The addition of cinnamon into your diet is unlikely to be classified as a “therapy” that requires prior consultation with your doctor. I have included it here because, like many other spices, its benefits have been grossly underestimated.

Previously, I wrote about the goodness of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric).

Cinnamon, alone or with honey, has been used for ages as a traditional remedy for diabetes. Fortunately, modern research has justified this practice.

The polyphenols in cinnamon have been shown to activate insulin receptors on cells, allowing glucose to enter the cells and produce energy.

The improved insulin sensitivity has been shown to improve glucose control and reduce central obesity (study done by Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences).

In an eight-week placebo-controlled study (published in Fertility and Sterility), cinnamon extract reduced insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Another study (published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2009) showed that cinnamon reduced oxidative stress and improved fasting blood glucose levels.

There were other studies that produced conflicting results. However, it has become clear that no standardised dose was used in these studies, and that researchers have also discovered that different cinnamon species give different results.

As spices have always surprised us with their special qualities (for example, cloves have the highest antioxidant powers, being many times stronger than that of the best fruits), I have full faith that further studies on cinnamon will prove it to be a good way to prevent or fight diabetes.

In the meantime, I continue to put lots of cinnamon in my food. And I just love cinnamon tea!

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.


Most Viewed