Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Adult-onset diabetes is a progressive disease characterized by an inability to process the energy from the foods eaten in an efficient manner. The physiological dysfunction is both caused by and contributes to insulin resistance. Though the pancreas is responsible for expressing this hormone crucial to glucose metabolism, diabetes is not a disease that is limited to one organ. It has a number of other deleterious systemic effects - including cardiovascular conditions. In fact, the combination of diabetes and heart disease is so frequent that the medical world has identified it as metabolic syndrome, recognizing that a major cause of death in diabetic patients is heart disease.82-83

Metabolic syndrome is a growing health problem around the world - in large part due to diet and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. As the medical community and patients struggle to prevent and treat this complex and increasingly prevalent condition, they are looking to traditional herbal remedies for possible solutions - potentially without the serious side effects of conventional drugs. 3 is one such herb that a number of scientific studies suggest could actually therapeutically intervene in the underlying diseases associated with the syndrome.83

How Does It Work?

Dietary changes and increased exercise by themselves are often insufficient in treating or reversing metabolic syndrome, making it necessary for patients to seek medicinal options. Agents that improve glucose metabolism (or counteract the effects of dysfunction) are obviously a key treatment component. Additionally, since the majority of cardiovascular conditions occurring with diabetes involves abnormal levels of lipids in the blood (i.e., cholesterol), it is essential that therapeutic agents address correcting lipid metabolism irregularities.82-83

A crucial part of the process that regulates both carbohydrate and fat metabolism are PPARs - cell receptors that other molecules bind to, triggering metabolic activity. There are three different types of PPARs; drugs that activate PPAR-a are used to improve lipid metabolism, and those that activate PPAR-c help with glucose metabolism. Pharmaceutical drugs that increase sensitivity to insulin, like pioglitazone, do so by activating PPAR-c. Unfortunately these drugs can cause severe side effects (i.e., obesity).83

Research has identified equally potent plant polyphenols that also stimulate PPAR activity, including the isoflavones formononectin and calycosin from astragalus. Formononectin activated both PPAR-a and PPAR-c, in comparable strength to pharmaceutical agents. Calycosin also instigated PPAR activation, but not as strongly as formononectin, which did so at even low doses.83

Other biologically active constituents of astragalus have also demonstrated positive effects on glucose and fat metabolism by different mechanisms. Lab and animal studies showed that astragalus polysaccharides activate the AMPK enzyme, considered to be the metabolic master enzyme.84-85 AMPK is also activated by exercise, and regulates metabolism in multiple organs (i.e., liver, heart, pancreas, fat tissue, muscle).85 In one 8-week study, diabetic rats on a high-fat diet were given 700 mg of astragalus polysaccharides per kg of body weight for eight weeks and showed increased AMPK levels that resulted in improvement of insulin sensitivity and increased glucose uptake by cells (as measured by blood glucose levels).84

Evidence of Benefit

The in vitro and animal study data suggests that astragalus may offer a safer therapeutic option for patients with metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, and dysfunctional lipid metabolism by stimulating production of proteins involved in metabolic processes. Results of several clinical studies on diabetic patients support these suggested benefits:

Specifically Astragalus membranaceus.
Acronym for Peroxisome proliferator activated receptors.
 
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