Managing diabetes naturally

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The remedy to this disease may have been growing in front of us the whole time

A new Australian study indicates that traditional Aboriginal and Indian plants could be used to manage diabetes and may also have potential use in cancer treatment.

Considered to be the world’s fastest growing chronic condition, diabetes is a disease in which the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. Complications associated with diabetes are considered to be one of the leading causes of death in Australia.

As part of her PhD at Swinburne University of Technology, Indian researcher Dr Vandana Gulati has investigated 12 medicinal plant extracts for their effect on glucose uptake and the formation of fatty tissue – adipogenesis. She also investigated the potential anti-cancer activity of the extracts in two cancerous cell lines.

Dr Gulati and her husband Dr Pankaj Gulati moved from New Delhi to Melbourne to pursue their PhD programs here. Pankaj received his scholarship for Monsah University in 2007 and Vandana received her scholarship for Swinburne University in 2008.

Prior to moving, Vandana Gulati was involved with pharmaceutical research in India after completing her Masters in Ayurvedic Pharmacy. In Melbourne, Dr Gulati continued her work as a researcher with Swinburne and also worked as a lecturer in Nutritional Sciences with Endeavour College of Natural Health.

“When we moved here we found that people had reservations about the effectiveness of plant-based research,” Dr Gulati said. “There were a few groups working in this field, however majority were not receptive to the idea.”

Chair of Swinburne’s Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Prof. Enzo Palombo had an interest in this field though, and he encouraged her to join him in the research. According to Prof. Palombo, Australian medicinal plants are an untapped source and should be further explored as potential treatments for disease.

Their research indicated that witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana) and Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) stimulated glucose uptake in fat cells, while dead finish (Acacia tetragonophylla), turpentine bush (Beyeria Ieshnaultii) and caustic weed (Euphorbia drumondii) significantly reduced fat accumulation in fat cells. The Witchetty Bush and Dead Finish also showed strong activity against cervical cancer cells.

Previous studies have found that diabetes and cancer are linked, as the risk of low insulin in diabetes causes the over-production of insulin-receptor proteins, which affects the growth of cancer cells.

The research team also acquired plants extracts from India that indicated kali musli (Curculigo orchioides) stimulated glucose uptake as well as reduced fat accumulation, while kalmeigh (Andrographis paniculata) reduced accumulation in fat cells.

These plant species could potentially be applied in the management of Type 2 diabetes and its related complications of weight gain, hypertension and immune suppression.

“We have vast flora and fauna that can be explored and there is already so much evidence that plants work for medicinal purposes,” Dr Gulati said. “Aspirin and Vin Cristine (which is used for cancer), for example, are drugs that are derived or isolated from plants.”

“There are still many experiments that need to be completed on the cells, followed by testing on animals and finally a trial on humans directly, however, we are very positive of the outcome,” Dr Gulati said.