A new paper claims that traditional Chinese herbal medicines might slow the progression of diabetes - by slowing the more vague condition referred to as "prediabetes."

Prediabetes is considered to mean elevated blood sugar levels without the rise in glucose levels of type 2 diabetes. Obviously such people are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and then also heart disease and stroke. According to such a classification, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that about 79 million American adults age 20 years or older could be considered prediabetic. 

A paper in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology&Metabolism writes of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 389 participants at 11 research sites in China were randomly assigned to take either a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines or a placebo. For a year, subjects took capsules of either the Chinese herb mixture, called Tianqi, or the placebo three times a day before meals. All participants received a month of lifestyle education at the outset of the trial and met with nutritionists several times during the course of the study. Subjects' glucose tolerance was measured on a quarterly basis. 


At the end of the trial, 36 participants in the Tianqi group and 56 in the placebo group had developed diabetes. The analysis found taking Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 percent compared with the placebo, after adjusting for age and gender. The overall reduction in risk was comparable to that found in studies of diabetes medications acarbose and metformin, and study participants reported few side effects from the Tianqi herbs. Tianqi includes several herbs that have been shown to lower blood glucose levels and improve control of blood glucose levels after meals.

"With diabetes evolving into a serious public health burden worldwide, it is crucial to take steps to stem the flood of cases," said co-author Chun-Su Yuan, MD, PhD, of the University of Chicago. "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."

"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," said one of the study's lead authors, Xiaolin Tong, MD, PhD, of Guang'anmen Hospital in Beijing, China. "More research is needed to evaluate the role Chinese herbal medicine can play in preventing and controlling diabetes."