Licorice Root Reduces Blood Sugar, Other Anti-Diabetes Effects

Licorice root
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If you have enjoyed licorice root for its tummy soothing qualities—and even if you haven’t—you may be interested to know that a team of scientists have uncovered another benefit of this ancient herbal remedy. Licorice root has been shown to possess substances that can reduce blood sugar levels and offer other anti-diabetes advantages.

Licorice root harbors health benefits

Over the years, researchers have uncovered several substances in licorice root that may offer health benefits. In the fight against gum disease, for example, a recent study in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products reported that licoricidin and licorisoflavan A were effective against bacteria that cause cavities and have roles in gum disease.

Other studies have suggested licorice oil may help with weight loss, while other researchers have suggested substances in licorice possess anti-inflammatory properties and provide anti-ulcer and stomach-soothing benefits.

Licorice root and diabetes
At the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, researchers have now uncovered substances in licorice root that have anti-diabetes benefits. These substances are called amorfrutins, and the scientists have shown they have an ability to lower blood sugar levels and fight inflammation without causing undue side effects. Amorfrutins may also prevent a disease caused by a diet rich in fat called fatty liver.

The amorfrutins were named after the fruit of the Amorpha fruticosa bush, which also harbors these beneficial substances. Amorpha fruticosa, also known as desert false indigo and bastard indigobush, is a flowering plant in the legume family and grows wild in the United States, northern Mexico, and southeastern Canada. Licorice is also in the leguminous family.

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According to one of the study’s researchers, Sascha Sauer, the anti-diabetes benefits of amorfrutin are related to the ability of its molecules to attach directly onto a certain receptor in the nucleus called PPARy, which has a key role in fat and glucose metabolism. “Although there are already drugs on the market that affect the PPARy receptor, they are not selective enough in their effect and cause side effects like weight gain and cardiovascular problems,” noted Sauer.

Licorice teas and other licorice products currently on the market are not potent enough to treat diabetes, explained Sauer, because the concentration of the important substances is too low. To get around this issue, Sauer and his team developed a special extraction process that allows them to get sufficient concentrations of amorfrutins from licorice.

Natural ways to control blood sugar
Given the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States and around the world, it’s no surprise there has been considerable research into natural, complementary ways to control blood sugar levels. Thus far, many of the studies have yielded conflicting results and no firm recommendations for their use in managing diabetes.

Among the natural approaches studied are chromium, magnesium, and vanadium, as well as the herbs garlic, ginger, ginseng, hawthorn, and stinging nettle. Various foods have also been suggested, such as fenugreek seeds, broccoli, buckwheat, and peas, all of which are rich in fiber.

Sauer noted that “The amorfrutins can be used as functional nutritional supplements or as mild remedies that are individually tailored to the patient.” Perhaps licorice root and its amorfrutins will make the list of effective anti-diabetes remedies once it has been tested more rigorously in clinical studies in diabetes patients.

SOURCES:
Aly AM et al. Licorice: a possible anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer drug. AAPS PharmSciTech 2005 Mar; 6(1): E74-E82
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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