Type 2 diabetes is a serious public health concern in many countries – it’s one of the fasted growing metabolic diseases in the world(1), which has many researchers scrambling to find effective treatments for it.
Recently, a team of researchers turned their attentions to traditional medicines of Indigenous Australians, as well as to Indian Ayurvedic medicine, to look for more holistic approaches to treating the disease.
Many drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetes are known to cause weight gain(2), which makes them unsuitable for long-term use.
The researchers’ hope was to explore alternative treatment methods that might not have the same negative side effects.
Learning From The Oldest Healthcare Systems In The World
Vandana Gulati, a pharmacologist and the Swinburne University of Technology in Austrial, led the investigation of seven Australian Aboriginal medicinal plants, alonside of five Indian Ayurvedic plants.
Ayurvedic medicine in particular is known for being one of the oldest consistent styles of healthcare in the world, having evolved in India over 5,000 years ago.
Gulati wanted to see if these ancient holistic remedies panned out in a scientific setting – specifically, she was interested in seeing if the plants could influence how the body process glucose and fatty tissues. She describes her process for choosing which plants to investigate in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine:
“The Australian Aboriginal plants were selected on the basis of availability and their known medicinal activities. The Indian Ayurvedic plants were selected according to their reported anti-diabetic potential.”(3)
Testing The Plants
Extracts from the plants were tested in mice for the study.
“We found that some of the plant extracts stimulated glucose uptake in fat cells while others reduced fat accumulation in fat cells,” said Gulati in a recent press release(4).
In particular, the Australian Aboriginal plant extracts of Australian Sandalwood and Witchetty Bush stimulated glucose uptake. Dead finish, Caustic weed and Turpentine bush all reduced fat accumulation in cells.
When examining the Ayurvedic plant extracts, their findings were also consistent – Kali musli, for example, was good for both fat build-up and glucose. Kalmeigh and Vijayasar, however, proved to only be useful in reducing the accumulation in fat cells.
Exploring The Links Between Diabetes And Cancer
Previous studies have shown a strong link between cancer and type 2 diabetes.
It was this link that led Gulati to also explore the effects that the plant extracts might have on cervical cancer and lung cancer, two common forms of the disease.
While none of the plants had any impact on the lung cancer cells, Witchetty bush and Dead finish proved effective in combating cervical cancer cells, even in small doses.
Indigenous Medicines: An “Untapped Source”
Gulati’s research comes on the heels of an earlier study from the same institution, which looked at many of the same extracts to study their antioxidant effects.
“Australian medicinal plants are an untapped source and should be further explored as potential treatments for disease,” said the leader of that study, Enzo Palombo(5).