by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
It has finally happened – winter and the cold bite of it’s breath has found many of us. Cold weather also brings with it high calorie foods and sedentary habits. With the glut of holiday commercials highlighting decadent sweets, beverages, and hot food we are subconsciously lead down a dangerous path – one that is no less dangerous than the gingerbread house of fables.
When we are inactive our metabolism shifts also to a slower speed, one designed to conserve resources necessary for survival. This down-regulation effects our thyroid a glad that governs body temperature and plays a role in blood pressure and circulation.
There are herbs and foods viewed historically as beneficial during the winter months that help keep the dangers of a downregulated metabolism in check. Herbs most commonly thought of as heat generating and metabolism boosting are garlic, ginger, cayenne, turmeric, and tea.
Although the use of plant extracts is no longer a significant aspect of medical care as practiced in Western populations, it is still popular in large numbers of the world’s population, particularly in Asia and Europe. However, for medicine, as practiced in Western countries, one observation that appears to be forgotten is that many of the pharmaceutical agents currently prescribed appear to have been derived from natural compounds found in traditional medicinal plants.
Tea derived from the plant Camellia Sinesis can be classified as green tea, oolong tea, or black tea, depending on its level of fermentation. Green tea has been shown to reduce cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels in the general population. Additionally, small trials suggest there may be specific benefits to the diabetic population. Diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic illnesses in America, and winter may be the tipping point for many who become sedentary due to worsening weather.
For those who are unable or do not like hot and spicy, take heart there are herbs available to you also that are effective in improving metabolism and blood sugars. Many of them are perfect for tossing into warming broths or stews.
Rosemary helps normalize blood sugar levels naturally. It promotes weight loss as well, which is a double boon for many people with diabetes who struggle with weight issues. Research conducted in Jordan to study the effects of rosemary on lipid profile in diabetic rats proved that rosemary has no significant influence on serum glucose level and lipid profile of normal rats. However, when rosemary extract was administered to diabetic rats for four weeks, their blood sugar levels reduced by 20%, cholesterol levels by 22%, triglyceride levels by 24%, and LDL by 27% while HDL increased by 18% respectively.
Oregano is considered one of the best herbs to lower blood sugar levels. A Mexican study on “Inhibition of Advanced Glycation End-Product Formation by Origanum majorana L. In Vitro and Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats” revealed that that oregano alleviated oxidative stress under diabetic conditions through the inhibition of lipid peroxidation. Oregano may also prevent and delay the onset of renal damage.
Sage can have Metformin-like effects, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Sage has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, as one of the essential herbs to reduce blood sugar. A word of warning – taking high doses of sage along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low, a condition called hypoglycemia. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.
Marjoram, a lesser-known herb that lower blood sugar, is high in polyphenols, and aids in stabilizing blood glucose levels. A 2012 study in the Journal of Evidence-Based Alternative and Complementary Medicine found Marjoram reduced the formation of Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products. AGE is responsible for many of the complications associated with diabetes, like damage to arteries and eyes. Sprinkle marjoram on your dinner to help add variety in flavor or use as a substitute for oregano in cooking.
Fenugreek, in multiple studies, shows that Fenugreek seeds help lower blood sugar by slowing down the process of digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine. This action is similar to the prescription drug Acarbose.
When we return to old-school cooking from scratch, the food is not only more satisfying but also restorative making it possible to pass through winter healthier.
To herbs and your Health
The study was published in African Journal of Plant Science Vol. 6 in 2012.
Griggs B. Green Pharmacy: A History of Herbal Medicine. 1st ed. London: Robert Hale; 1981.
Evans J.L. Diet, botanical, and nutritional treatments for type 2 diabetes. 2003. http://www.endotext.com (accessed July 7, 2010)