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Ginseng Extract May Keep Diabetes in Check

CHICAGO, May 24, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Although ginseng root has shown some promise for treating diabetes, a new study of mice released Friday suggests the berry of the herb may be far more effective for controlling elevated blood sugar levels.

And the berry also may even induce weight loss.

"The berry is very effective for treating diabetes, and it potentially could be used to develop a new class of anti-diabetic drugs," Chun-Su Yuan, assistant professor of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago and director of the study, told United Press International.

The berry appears to be more effective than the root because it contains five to seven times the concentration of a compound called ginsenoside Re, Yuan said in describing his findings which appear in the June issue of the journal Diabetes.

The root has some effects on controlling blood sugar but the berry extract "is much more effective," Yuan said. In addition, "the berry extract can reduce body weight very significantly. It reduces food intake, "but more importantly it can increase energy expenditure, so the animal actually ... is more active."

This would make it "potentially appealing" to people "because humans love to eat" and it would "reduce appetite and increase energy level," Yuan said.

The compound has not been tested in humans, however, and it is unclear whether findings in mice would hold true in people, said Vladimir Vuksan, a nutritionist at the University of Toronto, who has conducted several studies in people examining the effects of ginseng extracts on treating diabetes.

"I would take this with reservation because it's an animal model," Vuksan told UPI. "Ginseng has shown all kinds of effects in animals," but these "are not really panning out in humans.

"Most of the studies were done by (herbal) industry researchers ... when it's done independently ... they were less lucky," Vuksan said.

In the study, Yuan's team injected the berry into mice with a genetic defect that causes weight gain and the development of Type 2 diabetes. This disease is caused by reduced sensitivity to insulin, which can lead to dangerously high levels of sugar circulating in the blood.

The berry extract decreased blood sugar levels in the mice from a very high level to a normal level and insulin sensitivity also improved, Yuan said.

The mice also lost 10 percent of their weight in 12 days compared with untreated mice that gained weight.

Vuksan finds this disconcerting.

"If they have seen weight loss, then they have a major problem ... because once you lose weight, then sugar levels automatically improve," he said. This makes it difficult to determine whether the improved insulin and blood sugar levels were due to the ginseng berry extract or simply a result of the weight loss.

Yuan noted the university has applied for a patent on ginsenoside Re and that they "have been talking with some of the pharmaceutical companies" that are interested in developing the compound as an anti-diabetic drug.

In the future, his group plans to do some small clinical studies (in humans) to show safety and efficacy of the berry extract.

(Reported by Steve Mitchell, UPI Medical Correspondent, in Washington)


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