Sweet news about ginseng

From San Diego, at the Experimental Biology 2000 meeting

Many people with adult-onset diabetes can control their blood sugar or limit side effects of the disease by avoiding large meals and adhering to a healthy diet. A small study now indicates that ginseng may be a helpful addition to such a lifestyle.

Herbalists often prescribe American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) as a folk remedy for diabetes. Several years ago, researchers at the University of Toronto began examining that health claim and now present evidence of a benefit.

Volunteers with and without diabetes received an inert 3-gram capsule or equal amount of ginseng powder. The capsules were given either at the same time as or 40 minutes before ingesting 25 g of the sugar glucose. In all the comparisons, men and women who took the ginseng experienced a 15 to 20 percent smaller rise in blood sugar, according to a report in the April 10 Archives of Internal Medicine.

In a second trial, this time with 10 diabetic men and women in their 60s, Vladimir Vuksan and his colleagues now report finding no additional effect of doubling or tripling the original dose of ginseng or taking the herbal remedy at longer intervals before the sugar. They conclude that people with diabetes can derive modest benefits by downing ginseng any time up to 2 hours before eating.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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