World Diabetes Day: The role of herbal medicine in diabetes treatment.

Cephas Kwaku Debrah The writer is a Teaching Assistant at the Department of Herbal Medicine, KNUST

Sat, 14 Nov 2020 Source: Cephas Kwaku Debrah

World Diabetes Day was coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in 2006. It has since been celebrated every year on November 14th.

Its purpose has been to promote the need to take coordinated and concerted actions to confront diabetes as a critical global health issue.

Diabetes has now become one of the world’s leading non-communicable diseases that affect the body’s ability to make or use insulin.

There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational. The body’s blood sugar levels are remarkably constant and rarely outside the range of 3.5?8.0 mmol/L but if an individual record continues fasting blood sugar over 8 mmo1/L or a random value over 11.1 mmo1/L the person is said to be diabetic.

Common symptoms include frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss, slow wound healing, blurry vision and frequent infections. Diabetes if left untreated may lead to nerve, kidney and eye damage, hearing impairment, foot gangrene, miscarriages, stroke and Alzheimer disease among others.

Significant number of Ghanaians are known to suffer from this disorder with the prevalence increasing with age and being higher in urban than in rural areas. Most patients often struggle to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels, and most current medications have also been known to have some unfavorable adverse effects.

Role of Herbal medicines

Herbal medicines have over the years played an important role in the management of diabetes and its related complications. Clinical studies and various researches have proven the effectiveness of some medicinal plants and herbal formulations in the management of the disease.

Typical among them include: Charantia mormodica - Bitter melon (Asante twi: Nyanya), Ageratum conyzoides- Goat weed (Asante twi: Guakuro), Azadirachta indica -Neem (Asante twi: Dua Gyane), Bridelia micrantha- Bridelia (Asante twi: Opam fufuo), Hymenocardia acida- Heart fruit (Asante twi: Duakokowa), Morinda lucida - Brimstone tree (Asante twi: Bronyadua Konkroma), Moringa oleifera -Drumstick Tree (Ewe: Babatsi) and Tetrapleura tetraptera- Aidan fruit (Asante twi: Prekese).

The anti-hyperglycemic effects that result from treatment with some of these plants is often due to its ability to improve the performance of pancreatic tissue, which is achieved by increasing insulin secretions or reducing the intestinal absorption of glucose.

Research suggests that medicinal plants do not only promote normal blood sugar levels (normoglycaemia) but are also effective for the management of other conditions and complication associated with it.

Medicinal plants like Baphia nitida -African sandalwood (Asante twi: Odwen) and Spathodea campanulata –African tuliptree (Asante twi: Kokoanisuo) are recommended for the management of diabetic wound, Morinda lucida - Brimstone tree (Asante twi: Bronyadua Konkroma) for diabetic retinopathy, Terminalia catapa –Indian almond (Asante twi: Abrofo nkate?) for diabetic nephropathy with amnesia and Theobroma cacao –Cocoa (Asante twi: Kookoo) for diabetic neuropathy.

As we celebrate World Diabetes Day to promote the importance of taking coordinated and concerted actions to confront diabetes, I would like to bring to our attention that our traditional herbs also offer a better alternative for blood sugar levels management in a holistic and safer way, either as a standalone therapy or in combination with other treatments modalities at the right dosages and spacing.

Although various research institutions through researches and clinical study are making Herbal Medicine practice evidence-based, it will be prudent if a research fund is established by the government of Ghana to harness the efficacy and safety of most of our traditional medicines through coordinated drug development research.

DISCLAIMER: This writeup is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.


Ghana Herbal Pharmacopoeia (2015) 3rd edition

Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (2017) 10th edition

Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy 16th edition.

Columnist: Cephas Kwaku Debrah
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