Friday, October 28, 2011

Stevia - So Much More Than Just a Natural Sweetener: Combination "Therapy" With Stevia and Fenugreek as Effective as Common Diabetes Drug!

Image 1: Nature vs. Pharma. Leavs and seeds vs. chemicals - guess who will win!
I have been wondering for quite some time now, why I, as a resident of the European Union, do still have to use my hair-care products to sweeten my tea, my yogurt, or whatever else, if I do want to avoid artificial sweeteners or the good, or I should say, "bad" old table sugar... for those of you who are now wondering how hair-care products relate to my sweet tooth - here in Europe, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni has still not been approved as a food additive, so that the myriad of health-food shops carrying respective products simply relabel them as "hair-care" or "cosmetic products, not intended for internal application"... and as a obedient citizen I would, of course, never even remotely consider ingesting a product such as stevia that is so utterly natural and genetically unmodified that it must be harmful ;-)

A pros pos harmful: As it turns out, stevia could in fact be pretty harmful - yet not for my or your physiological health, but certainly for the financial health of the big pharma companies. After all, scientists from the Departments of Pharmacology at the Bangladesh Agricultural University and the Faculty of Medicine at the Kagawa University in Japan have recently been able to show that Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, in combination with Fenugreek aka Methi (Trigonella foenum-graecum), exhibits similarly potent hypoglycemic effects in Streptozotocin treated rats (the reference model for type II diabetes) as Amaryl(R), a commonly used diabetes drug based on the active ingredient Glimepiride (Rafiq. 2011). It thusly stands to reason that big pharma has a vested interest in delaying or even preventing the admission of stevia as an allowable food additive. Think about it: Who would buy all the Amaryls, Metformins & Co if Coca Cola decided to put stevia instead of aspartame into their soft-drinks and - all of a sudden - all those pre-diabetic soft-drink junkies would not develop full-blown type II diabetes, anymore? Ah... I am digressing again. Let's get back to the facts.

For their study Kazi Rafiq and his (I hope that "Kazi" is a male first name ;-) colleagues had collected fresh stevia and methi (=fenugreek) leaves and seeds and prepared them according to the following procedure:
Fresh Stevia leaves that were collected from the garden were oven dried first and then dried leaves were grinded with Grinder machine. Then 1g dried leaves samples were mixed with 10ml distilled water and were allowed to stay for whole night. Everyday fresh extract were prepared by using these techniques. Water extract of methi was made from 100g fresh seed sample by grinding with Grinder machine, and mixed with 2000 ml distilled water. Then the water extract was lyophilized in Central Laboratory, BAU. Finally the herbal drug was collected as powder form by Freeze drying in Central Laboratory, BAU.
The scientists then injected their 30 of their 36 Long Evans rats with Streptozotocin (STZ) to induce insulin resistance (again, STZ-treaded rodents are the most commonly used model of type II diabetes). After two weeks of STZ injection the (then) diabetic rats were divided into 5 groups:
  • Group-B: diabetic control (STZ).
  • Group-C: STZ + aqueous extract of stevia leaves @ 100 mg/kg,
  • Group-D: STZ + aqueous extract of methi leaves @ 500 mg/kg,
  • Group-E: STZ + combination of aqueous extract of stevia and methi leaves @ 500 mg/kg
  • Group-F: Amaryl @ 800µg/kg
The plant extracts and the drug were administered orally once daily for 60 days. Blood glucose levels were monitored during the treatment period and an oral glucose tolerance test was conducted at the end of the 60-day experiment (results cf. figure 1).
Figure 1: Blood glucose levels (in mg/dl) in response to oral glucose tolerance test in normal and diabetic (STZ) rats after 6 weeks on a combination of stevia and fengreek extracts or the anti-diabetes drug Amaryl - left; change in area under the respective curve (AUC) relative to normal control - right (data adapted from Rafiq. 2011)
As you can see Amaryl and the combination therapy with stevia and fenugreek extracts at 500mg/kg per day (equivalent to 81mg/kg for a human being; or ~6.5g of each for someone weighing about 80kg) were equally effective in ameliorating the blood glucose response (within the statistical margin the AUC was identical).
Figure 2: Elevations in blood sugar levels (compared to healthy control) after STZ treatment and consecutive administration of stevia, fenugreek, a combination of both or Amaryl (data calculated based on Rafiq. 2011)
Moreover, the combination of stevia and fenugreek ameliorated the negative effect the Streptozotocin treatment had on blood glucose concentrations to a similar extend as Amaryl (cf. figure 2), which led the scientists to conclude that...
these findingslend pharmacological support to the suggested folkloric and ethnomedical user of these plants in managing and /or controlling of diabetes mellitus in rural communities of Bangladesh.
While the use of small amounts of stevia to sweeten your beverages and / or food will probably not have the same profound effects on your blood glucose levels as the combination of what would amount to a ~6g equivalent of leaf and seed extracts from stevia and fenugreek used in this study, I would assume that those dubious"hair-care products" still constitutes the most healthy sugar-alternative on the European market - so do your pancreas, ahh.. I mean hair, a favor and get yourself some stevia ;-)