Ginseng Berry Shows Promise for Diabetes
May 24, 2002 -- An extract from the ginseng berry may one day help diabetics with their two greatest challenges: blood sugar control and weight control.
"Since this berry contains agents that are effective against both obesity and diabetes, the ginseng fruit has enormous promise as a source of new drugs," says study director Chun-Su Yuan, MD, PhD, of the University of Chicago's Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research, in a news release.
For years, doctors have been looking for newer and better treatments for obesity and diabetes. Often, the two conditions occur together. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. Type 2 diabetes, characterized by an inability to use the hormone insulin effectively (a phenomenon called insulin resistance), is the most common form, affecting nearly 6% of the population. And those numbers are rising, possibly due to rising obesity in the U.S.
In recent years, scientists have identified a substance in the popular supplement made from ginseng root that can help stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetics. Now, doctors have found that an extract from the berry of the ginseng plant is even more potent -- at least in animals.
The study is published in the June issue of Diabetes, a journal from the American Diabetes Association.
In the study, diabetic mice that were injected daily with ginseng berry extract had complete normalization of blood sugar levels, improved sensitivity to insulin, and lowered cholesterol levels.
The treatment also prompted dramatic weight loss in the animals, which were also obese. The mice lost more than 10% of their body weight in 12 days, while the diabetic mice who didn't get ginseng berry extract gained 5% more weight. The treated mice ate 15% less food and were 35% more active than the mice not receiving the ginseng berry extract.
The extract had no detectable effect on normal mice.
"We were stunned by how different the berry is from the root and by how effective it is in correcting the multiple ... abnormalities associated with diabetes," says Yuan.
Yuan tells WebMD that a particular component of ginseng, known as ginsenoside Re, may be responsible for its potent antidiabetic effect. The substance is concentrated in the berry and is scarce in the root. He is also working to isolate an unidentified component of the extract that he believes is linked to the dramatic weight loss.
"What we can say at this point is that the research is promising," he tells WebMD. "But we don't yet know if this will work in humans. That is the next step."
Many diabetes treatments showing promise in animals have proven disappointing in humans, says ginseng researcher Vladimir Vuksan, PhD. He is associate director of the Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
In a study reported two years ago, Vuksan and colleagues found that diabetic patients who took a ginseng supplement made from American-grown root had moderate reductions in blood glucose following meals.
He is still studying ginseng, but he does not recommend that diabetics take currently available ginseng root supplements. That is because there is no way of knowing the composition of the ginseng from product to product, or where it was grown.
"Standardization from product to product is a huge problem, and manufacturers don't list where the ginseng comes from," he tells WebMD. "Ginseng is grown all over the world, but our studies showed this benefit [only with] American ginseng. Some of the ginsengs we have looked at actually raise blood sugar levels, and that would obviously not be good for a diabetic."