(NaturalNews) Type 2 diabetes is an international epidemic and 380 million people throughout the world are expected to develop the condition by 2025. The vast majority of the time, pre-diabetes (also called impaired glucose tolerance or IGT), which is marked by higher than normal blood sugar levels, develops before full-blown diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 57 million Americans -- which translates to one in four U.S. adults age 20 or older -- already have IGT. Simply put, these are cases of type 2 diabetes waiting to happen.
In Asian countries, traditional herbal medicines have long been used to treat symptoms of pre-diabetes. Now researchers from the Center for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney in Australia have found evidence these Chinese herbal therapies actually do help normalize blood sugar levels. And that means, by successfully treating IGT, the herbs may prevent diabetes in people at high risk of the disease due to impaired glucose tolerance.
"People with impaired glucose tolerance are more likely to develop full blown diabetes and it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of the disease through lifestyle changes and medication. Chinese herbal medicines have been used for this purpose for a long time, so there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for their safety and effectiveness, but we were interested to find out whether scientific research could provide a basis for recommending these alternative treatments," lead researcher Suzanne Grant said in a statement to the media.
In order to document whether the herbs work to treat pre-diabetes, the Australian research team analyzed the results of 16 clinical trials that lasted from one month to two years. In all, they studied data from 1,391 people who received 15 different herbal formulations prescribed for IGT.
The results, which were compiled for the Cochrane Library, an international collection of research data bases, were compelling. Using Chinese herbal medicines along with lifestyle changes such as weight loss and regular exercise was twice as effective as lifestyle changes alone at normalizing high blood sugar levels. Bottom line: research subjects with IGT who were given the herbal formulations were far less likely to develop full blown diabetes during the study period. What's more, no adverse side effects were reported in any of the trials.
"Our results suggest that some Chinese herbal medicines can help to prevent diabetes, but we really need more research before we can confidently say that these treatments work," Grant stated. Chinese herbal mixtures used to treat pre-diabetes are thought to help normalize blood sugar levels by improving pancreatic function and increasing the availability of insulin, the blood sugar regulating hormone.