Conventional modern medicine looms large over complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and sets a high burden of proof that makes it challenging for CAM to meet. But Ayurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, and other CAM approaches continue to garner evidence-based support and merit for their ability to effectively manage health conditions such as diabetes.
For instance, a large review of studies notes that Ayurvedic medicines for type 2 diabetes may confer a host of benefits. This article explores this review and whether and to what extent this holistic health care approach can help manage diabetes.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) health condition that affects your body’s ability to control and use glucose (sugar) as an energy source. Rather than releasing sugar to fuel your body, these sugars accumulate in your bloodstream.
What Are the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?
Instead of using these sugars as their fuel source, your body will draw what it needs for energy from your muscles, organs and tissues. Over time, these can cause a wide range of diabetes symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision
- Dry mouth
- Frequent hunger and thirst
- Gaining or losing weight without trying
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Wounds or skin infections, such as sores, that heal slowly or not at all
- Sexual health problems such as erectile dysfunction
- Urinating more often
What Are Common Type 2 Diabetes Complications?
Type 2 diabetes that isn’t well controlled can cause short- and long-term complications such as damage to your:
- Blood vessels
- Heart, including its nerves which can lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
- Nerves in your limbs (diabetic neuropathy)
It can greatly impact your immune system. This can raise your risk for illness and injury and make it harder to heal from them.
And it may amplify your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain health issues associated with dementia. These health conditions lead to a loss of brain function that impairs your memory and impacts the way you think and behave.
What Is Ayurvedic Medicine?
Ayurveda is a natural system of health care with roots dating back more than 3,000 years. It’s widely used in South Asian countries, such as India and Nepal.
The term Ayurveda comes from an ancient Indo-Aryan language knowns as Sanskrit. It means knowledge or science of life. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that we’re made of 5 basic elements (panchamahabhutas) needed to sustain life.
These elements include earth, air, fire, water and ether (also referred to as vacuum or space). Together they forge the triguna (3 doshas described as life forces or energies) of the body:
- Vata composed of ether and air
- Pitta represents fire
- Kapha comprised of water and earth
The tridosha correspond to the triguna (3 gunas) of the mind or consciousness:
- Sattva (stability)
- Rajas (action or activation based on passions or inspiration)
- Tamas (darkness or inertia)
Ayurveda believes illness stems from an imbalance among any dosha or guna. It aims to connect your physical (prakriti), spiritual (purusha) and physiologic processes to support a healthy interplay between your mind, body and soul.
Ayurveda considers your total or holistic health rather than focusing on just one or a few symptoms. In essence, it treats an illness by looking at its root cause and your health as a whole.
An Ayurvedic treatment often begins with an internal purifying process. Next interventions may involve lifestyle changes along with medicinal and procedural prescriptions.
These may include holistic health care strategies such as:
- Breathing exercises
- Exercise such as yoga
- Herbal medicines
- Tailored diet
Plant-derived herbal medicines are most often used in Ayurvedic medicine. But they may also be made of mineral-, metal-, marine- and animal-based compounds.
Can Ayurvedic Medicine Help With Blood Sugar Control?
Experts at the University of Nottingham reviewed and analyzed 219 articles, of which 199 were randomized controlled trials involving close to 22,000 participants and 98 Ayurvedic medicines.
Other interventions typically used in Ayurveda, such as detoxifying and purifying therapies, weren’t included in this review as its focus was the Ayurvedic medicines themselves.
According to the 2022 review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, a wide range of Ayurvedic medicines may help lower high blood pressure, excess body weight and high cholesterol. These health issues are often closely tied to diabetes and vice versa.
But the most compelling evidence found that certain Ayurvedic medicines may help manage blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Fasting blood glucose (FBG) went down by 4 to 56 milligrams per deciliter. FBG measures the amount of glucose in your blood when you fast for 8 to 12 hours. At this point, your blood sugars are usually at their lowest.
The hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c or A1c) blood test shows your average blood sugar levels over the past 90 days. Certain Ayurvedic medicines lowered A1c levels by at least 0.3% or 0.4%, which the authors of the review describe as “clinically meaningful.”
These include medicines used in Ayurveda such as:
- Aegle marmelos L. Corrêa (bael)
- Boswellia serrata Roxb.
- Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Thunb.) Makino
- Momordica charantia L. (bitter melon)
- Nigella sativa L. Plantago ovata Forssk. (black cumin)
- Tinospora cordifolia (Willd.) Hook. f. & Thomson
- Trigonella foenum-graecum L. (fenugreek)
- Urtica dioica L. (stinging nettle or nettle leaf)
Some are often used to make spices and prepare foods with many Ayurvedic formulas sold over the counter as dietary supplements.
These findings support previous reviews on single herbs and the broader Ayurvedic approach to diabetes care. They will be used to develop a clinical guideline to help Ayurvedic practitioners manage type 2 diabetes.
- “Type 2 Diabetes” via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- “Alternative Medicine” via StatPearls [Internet]
- “Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth” via National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- “Effectiveness and Safety of Ayurvedic Medicines in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” via Frontiers in Pharmacology
- The Burden and Risks of Emerging Complications of Diabetes Mellitus” via Nature Reviews Endocrinology
- “Type 2 Diabetes” via Mayo Clinic
- “Diabetes Type 2” via MedlinePlus