By Eduardo Gonzales, MD
Can ampalaya really cure diabetes? How much and how often should it be eaten? —firstname.lastname@example.org
Foremost, let me make one thing clear, ampalaya (Mormodicacharantia) cannot cure diabetes—in fact, diabetes is still an incurable disease. But diabetes can be controlled to prevent its complications from occurring and this is where ampalaya has a proven role.
Diabetes and its complications
In diabetes, little or no insulin is produced by the pancreas, or the body’s cells do not respond appropriately to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that enables sugar in the blood to enter the cells where it is utilized as energy source. Consequently, among diabetics, sugar (glucose) accumulates in their blood while at the same time the cells of their body are deprived of much needed energy.
The persistently high blood sugar level that characterizes diabetes gradually but progressively damages blood vessels and many vital organs, which invariably results in serious complications such as poor healing of wounds in the extremities, stroke, heart failure and heart attack, kidney failure, blindness, susceptibility to infection, and nerve damage that results in muscle weakness and reduced sensation.
The science behind ampalaya’s anti-diabetic effect
A number of scientific studies that have so far been undertaken on the blood sugar lowering effect of ampalaya, all have yielded positive results. The most compelling of these studies is a 10-year trial, which was conducted by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) that compared ampalaya leaves with the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide. The results of the trial showed that the blood sugar lowering effect of a 100 milligram per kilo dose per day of ampalaya is comparable to 2.5 milligrams of the anti-diabetes drug Glibenclamide taken twice a day. This means the action of ampalaya on blood sugar is equivalent to the action of the medicine.
The unequivocal scientific evidence on the beneficial effect of ampalaya on diabetes has prompted our Department of Health (DOH) into elevating the status of ampalaya from a mere nutritional supplement to that of a medicine.
The blood sugar lowering property of ampalaya is attributed to momordicin, a substance that is sometimes called plant insulin, which is also responsible for the bitter taste of the plant’s leaves and fruits.
How to take ampalaya for diabetes
The clinical studies on ampalaya’s anti-diabetic properties have so far been limited to its leaves either eaten as food or in the form of tablets, capsules and teas. There are no conclusive studies on the effect of the fruits and roots yet.
A number of local drug companies now make and sell ampalaya teas, tablets, or capsules. Unfortunately, the ampalayapreparations are even more expensive than some of the proprietary oral hypoglycemic drugs.
The good news, however, is that diabetics who wish to take ampalaya need not buy it in tablet, capsule, or tea form. They can cultivate the plant or buy it from the market and make their own preparation.
To prepare ampalaya extract, the Department of Health (DOH) suggests the following steps:
- Wash and finely chop ampalaya leaves.
- Add six tablespoons of chopped leaves in two glasses of water.
- Boil the mixture for 15 minutes in an uncovered pot.
- Cool down and strain.
- Drink 1/3 cup of the solution three times a day.
Alternately, ampalaya tops can be steamed and eaten (1/2 cup, twice a day).
Limitations of ampalaya
The standard treatment for controlling type 2 diabetes includes diet, exercise, and anti-diabetic medications. Hence, regular intake of ampalaya alone will not be able to control the blood sugar of most diabetics. People with the disease must still exercise and stick to a diabetic diet. Furthermore, for many diabetics, other medicines might have to be taken. In any case, regular intake of ampalaya will, at the least, lower the dose requirements for other anti-diabetic drugs.
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