Chinese herbal medicine may hold the key to preventing the development of type 2 diabetes in people who are at high risk of the disease, according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).
A clinical trial by scientists found that consuming a combinatio of herbs was as effective as a western prescription for medication for controlling prediabetes and slowing its progression to full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes is characterised by blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to indicate the onset of diabetes.
To test the effects of herbal medicine on prediabetes, 389 people diagnosed with the metabolic condition at 11 research sites across China were randomly assigned to take either a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines, called Tianqi, or a placebo. The capsules were taken three times a day before meals for 12 months.
Each participant was given a month of lifestyle education at the outset and had their glucose tolerance measured every three months.
At the end of the trial, 36 people treated with Tianqi had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to 56 people in the placebo group.
After adjusting for age and gender, the researchers concluded that people who took the herbal medicine were 32% less likely to get diabetes than those on the placebo, a risk reduction similar to that reported for the widely used diabetes medications metformin and acarbose. In addition, few side effects were experienced by those taking Tianqi.
One of the study’s authors, Doctor Chun-Su Yua, of the University of Chicago, said: “Patients often struggle to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels, and current medications have limitations and can have adverse gastrointestinal side effects.
“Traditional Chinese herbs may offer a new option for managing blood sugar levels, either alone or in combination with other treatments.”
Researcher Doctor Xiaolin Tong, of Guang’anmen Hospital in Beijing, China, added: “Few controlled clinical trials have examined traditional Chinese medicine’s impact on diabetes, and the findings from our study showed this approach can be very useful in slowing the disease’s progression.”

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