What do aloe and bitter melon have in common? Yes, they’re both plants, but both have also been identified as having powerful medicinal effects. New studies show both aloe and bitter melon exert positive effects on diabetes and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
High blood sugar occurs either when you don’t produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or your cells don’t respond to insulin properly (type 2 diabetes, which represents 90 percent of patients).
This is an advanced stage of insulin resistance, and since your insulin is inadequate, sugar can’t get into your cells and instead builds up in your blood, causing a variety of problems. This is why diabetics have elevated blood sugar levels. Symptoms include frequent urination, constant thirst and persistent hunger.
Diabetes is so prevalent it’s been called a global epidemic, and in most people, the condition is not under control. There are multiple therapies, drugs and treatments, but the side effects can be devastating.
Nevertheless, annual drug costs for diabetes in the U.S. are around $245 billion, even though type 2 diabetes is typically preventable and even reversible by leading a healthy lifestyle. According to an article in 24/7 Wall St.:
“Diabetes directly caused 75,578 deaths in 2013, the sixth highest death toll from a single disease in the United States. Further, diabetes is likely far more deadly than the numbers suggest.
Only 10 percent of deaths of those with diabetes have the disease recorded on their death certificates. Diabetes is also a significant risk factor for … other diseases.”
Worldwide, 382 million people are diabetic, but in ancient Greek, Roman and early Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic traditions, people used a plant known as aloe barbadensis — aloe vera — to curb symptoms. What did they know that modern science has only begun to reveal in recent decades?
Aloe Vera to the Rescue
Aloe is a subtropical succulent with thick, spiky leaves. Often grown indoors as a houseplant, it produces a thick, clear gel or “latex” for cuts and burns.
Traditional uses were for constipation, asthma, headaches, arthritis and diabetic symptoms. More recently, it’s been used to treat seborrhea (a skin condition), psoriasis, genital herpes and constipation.
Analysis of nine studies on aloe vera has scientists looking further into its potential to combat diabetes and pre-diabetes. Scientists at the David Grant USAF Medical Center analyzed the findings and found that diabetics with a fasting blood glucose above 200 milligrams a day benefitted most from oral aloe vera.
Those who took aloe vera orally had lowered fasting blood glucose levels (by nearly 47 milligrams per deciliter) as well as lowered HbA1C (a measure of average blood sugar over the past two to three months) by 1.05 percent.
Active ingredients in aloe are plentiful; 75 compounds in the outer “rind” and inner gel contain, as the scientists noted: “enzymes, minerals, anthraquinones, monosaccharide, polysaccharides, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids, phytosterols and amino acids,” some of which may play a part in helping to control hyperglycemia.
Other bioactive trace elements they identified included manganese, zinc, chromium and magnesium, already known as important for glucose metabolism by raising insulin’s effectiveness. Another study showed antioxidants and phenolics in aloe vera may also scavenge free radicals.
Aloe Vera Effectiveness, Traditional and Contemporary
One study showed aloe vera to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiproliferative and antioxidant functions due to C-glycosides barbaloin and isobarbaloin.
Another review, published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders found that “the use of aloe vera extract in pre-diabetic patients could revert impaired blood glucose within four weeks, but after eight weeks could alleviate an abnormal lipid profile.”
“Compared with the controls, aloe vera supplementation significantly reduced the concentrations of fasting blood glucose,” according to a study published in the journal Nutrients.