Traditional Chinese Medicine For Diabetes Works, New Study

Elaine Radford

A Chinese medicine that combines prescription diabetes medication Glibenclamide with traditional herbs may offer a lower risk of episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) than the Glibenclamide given alone. That's the result of a study of 800 patients performed by a large research team in China, which was reviewed by another team in Australia and then recently published in the open access journal PLOS One.

The popular remedy in question is often marketed as Xiaoke Pill, which the Chinese researchers translated as meaning "wasting-thirst" pill. It includes a mix of herbs that may date back as far as 2,000 years.

A typical list of the Chinese herbs included in the mix is radix astragali, radix rehmanniae, and radix trichosanthis. Despite their long history in China, Western medicine has had little evidence of their effectiveness.

For instance, WebMD said that the first two herbs were used to support the immune system in general and to treat fatigue and diabetes in particular -- but there was no scientific evidence that they worked. They had no information on the third herb at all.

A Chinese source describing radix trichosanthis made it sound more like something from magical folklore than from serious science: "The slightly cold property of the herb can clear heat, and the moist quality promotes the production of body fluid and clears away the heat in lung and stomach, thus nourishing Yin and moisturizing dryness."

And Chinese medicine has certainly received some bad publicity this month, with its use of elephant tusks and scaly anteaters threatening the survival of whole populations of wildlife.

However, it's reasonable to assume that at least some traditional remedies were based on actual results observed by healers over the centuries. For instance, a recent study on bitter melon has revealed that it probably does have an ingredient that fights pancreatic cancer.

Xiaoke, like bitter melon, could be a plant-based traditional Chinese medicine that does no harm and may do some good.

[Chinese medicine photo courtesy Malcolm Koo via Wikipedia Commons]