Sugar has been a suspect in the aging process since the 1960s, when scientists found that common health problems of people with sugar imbalances: loss of sight, kidney, nerve, heart problems,aching in the limbs and stroke-closely mirror the experience of premature aging. Those with unstable blood sugar age prematurely because sugar destroys everything from the teeth to the limbs. Blood sugar imbalance can put your body on fast-forward, causing you to think, feel. look, and act like a much older person. How does this happen to otherwise healthy individuals? Other than heredity, look no further than your next meal: A lifetime of eating bread, pasta, and sweets causes a buildup of glucose that the body can no longer process efficiently. The result is that overworked insulin-producing cells wear out, and excess glucose begins to act like glue in the bloodstream, attaching itself to the amino groups in tissue proteins and forming tough, yellow-brown advanced-glycation end products. In their quest to find an all-natural solution. Western scientists scoured the globe for answers. Their search brought them to Ayurvedic practitioners in India who have been successfully balancing blood sugar levels by using natural, plant-based extracts and tonics.
The Ayurvedic system of equalizing blood sugar relies on the properties of a precise combination of several plants. It's a medical tradition that dates back thousands of years. Among the most prominent blood sugar "balancers" are Gymnema sylvestre, Pterocarpus marsupium, Momordica charantia, and Syzygium cumini. Gymnema sylvestre is a large, woody herb native to western India and tropical Africa. An amazing chemical compound, the gymnemic acid in this plant's leaves is important in three ways. First, the acid restores the body's natural ability to process sugar. Second, it keeps people from craving sweet food. (G. sylvestre's common name, "gurmar," means "sugar destroyer" in Hindi.) Finally, gymnemic acid helps normalize the cholesterol and triglycerides found in those who process sugar poorly.
Daily doses of Gymnema sylvestre extract, which has been the subject of intense scientific study since the 1930s, have been proven to take as little as 10 days to affect blood glucose significantly (Shanmugasundaram 1990). Even more impressive is how this exceptional herb works: A landmark study of 22 men and women with severe sugar imbalances who took gymnemic acid for over 20 months showed that this nutrient can actually revive pancreatic cells that were once irrevocably damaged, allowing the body to produce more of its own insulin (Baskaran 1990). In another study, researchers noted that people who took G. sylvestre "reported a sense of greater well-being characterized by alertness of mind and body," and some felt a lessening of discomfort in their limbs.
Another favorite of scientists and Ayurvedic practitioners alike, Pterocarpus marsupium offers a potent, multilayered defense against the onset of blood sugar imbalance in the form of a chemical compound called (-) epicatechin. Studies performed on lab animals with blood sugar imbalances showed that muscle, fat, heart, and liver tissues exposed to (-) epicatechin responded by consuming more oxygen and processing glucose more efficiently (Ahmad 1989). Like gymnemic acid, (-) epicatechin possesses amazing powers of regeneration, healing long-damaged pancreatic cells and allowing the body to wage its own war against sugar damage. Even better, (-) epicatechin takes blood-sugar management one step further. Using the plant extract before a meal stops absorption of the sugars in foods we consume, lessening the amount of sugar the pancreas has to process (Gupta 1962).
Because of intense thirst, often the first sign of blood sugar imbalance, the juice of Momordica charantia, or bitter melon, is a popular approach to equalizing blood sugar. Like (-) epicatechin, M. charantia stimulates glucose uptake in the organs, and like gymnemic acid, it encourages the body to produce more insulin (Rao 1999). Furthermore, scientists now believe that this herbal nutrient may act to halt the destruction of insulin-positive cells, protecting the pancreas from further sugar damage (Ahmed 1998). Moreover, studies have shown that, like gymnemic acid, bitter melon balances cholesterol and triglyceride levels (Rao 1999). A final entry in the Ayurvedic solution to blood sugar problems is Syzygium cumini. In the Indian Materia Medica, the powdered seeds of this plant are listed as a remedy for excessive thirst and sugar in the urine, both of which are characteristic of blood sugar imbalance. Two separate studies conducted on lab animals with and without blood sugar problems have demonstrated the sugar-controlling properties of S. cumini (Bansal 1981; Kedar 1983). In addition, as with G. sylvestre, P. marsupium, and M charantia, there were no reported side effects.
Unfortunately, our love of sugar is not so "sweet" to us. The bonding of proteins and sugar in blood can lead to serious health problems and premature aging, which can be deadly. Thus, it is important to know that the sugars we eat can infiltrate our blood to the point where we become increasingly susceptible to a debilitating and incurable health problem. However, I am convinced that, armed with the sugar-balancing weapons I have described, we stand a chance of winning yet another battle in the war against aging. Dr. Charles Anderson is constantly seeking alternative choices to mainstream medicine, and several of them are revealed in his book Rage Against Age.