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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 00:23 GMT 01:23 UK
Ginseng 'a treatment for diabetes'
Diabetics must control their blood sugar levels
The herbal preparation American Ginseng could be used as a treatment for diabetes, scientists have discovered.

They found that taking the herb before a meal reduces blood sugar in people both with and without diabetes.

Lead researcher Dr Vladimir Vuksan said the findings could have implications both for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.

He said: "Controlling after-meal blood sugar levels is recognised as a very important strategy in managing diabetes.

"It may also be important in the prevention of diabetes in those who have not yet developed the disease."

Study participants, both diabetic (Type 2) and non-diabetic, consumed capsules containing three grams of ground Ontario-grown American ginseng either 40 minutes before or during a glucose test meal.

Blood sugar levels in diabetics who took the capsules were reduced by 20%.

We don't know what the effects of long-term consumption of ginseng will be

Dr Vladimir Vuksan, University of Toronto

Similar reductions were found among non-diabetics - but only when they took the ginseng capsules before the meal.

Although the results are encouraging, Dr Vuksan, assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, said people should not start using ginseng to control blood sugar levels until further tests have been done.

Long-term impact

He said: "This is an initial, short-term study that only indicates a need for more research. We don't know what the effects of long-term consumption of ginseng will be.

"Because of poor standardisation in the herbal industry, we also don't know if these findings will hold true for all American ginseng products.

"Nor do we know whether taking different species of ginseng such as Chinese or Japanese will have the same outcome."

Ginseng is one of the most widely-used herbs worldwide.

There are several types, including American, Chinese, Japanese and Siberian.

For the last 2,000 years of Chinese traditional medicine, ginseng has been used as a tonic with supposed curative, restorative and aphrodisiac properties.

Most of these claims have been based on anecdotal and other non-scientific observations.

It is only recently that tests of ginseng have begun in humans, using rigorous scientific techniques.

The British Diabetic Association welcomed the study, and said ginseng was one of a number of herbal preparations thought to have a beneficial effect.

However, a spokesman said: "This study is interesting, but there is no firm evidence of any particular benefit and we would advise people not to use ginseng as a replacement for any treatment they are currently taking."

The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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