The researchers screened extracts from a total of 263 species of herbs from 94 plant families. They found that eight of the extracts activated the PPARα (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor – alpha) and 22 of the plant extracts activated the PPARγ (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor – gamma).
Of these, five plant extracts activated both receptors. They were Daphine (Daphne gnidium), Star Anise (Illicium anisatum), Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), and Thymelaea (Thymelaea hirsuta).
Among these, the Haritaki and Thymelaea were found to significantly stimulate both the PPARα and PPARγ receptor proteins, while inhibiting the process of adipogenesis – the process of fat cell expansion that results in a higher risk of obesity.
Haritaki and Thymelaea inhibited the process of fat cell expansion, while the Red Cedar and the Daphine actually reduced adipose (fat) cells - making them potential remedies for obesity reduction.
The big news is the ability of these herbs to activate the PPARα and PPARγ receptors - giving them the ability to help diabetics process insulin better. How so?
What are PPARα and PPARγ receptors?
The PPARα receptor facilitates insulin reception – the ability of the cell to attach to insulin, and thus utilize glucose. If the cell does not receive insulin (bind onto receptors) properly, the cell cannot adequately absorb glucose – leaving glucose free in the bloodstream. Free glucose has been tied to a variety of ill effects, including artery damage, obesity and heart disease.
Meanwhile, the PPARγ protein decreases the risk of the cell becoming resistant to insulin.
All this means that increasing the availability of the PPARγ and PPARα proteins allows cells to better attach insulin and receive glucose more appropriately.
The trick however, is that stimulating these two proteins pharmaceutically also typically comes with stimulating the proliferation – expansion – of fat cells, among other ill effects, such as heart disease.
Viable Alternatives to Chemical Diabetes Control - without the risk
This is in fact one of the issues for the popular diabetes drug Rosiglitazone, along with other side effects. The drug – branded as Avandia by GlaxoSmithKline – has been the subject of negative panel reports - including one from the European Medicines Agency, which advised the drug be removed from the market. Research has estimated the drug causes up to 500 heart attacks and 300 heart failures a month in the U.S.
Meanwhile, medicinal plants such as Haritake have no known negative side effects to their ability to decrease insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation. Haritake is part of the famous Ayurvedia trifecta known as Triphala – which has been used in Ayurveda as a digestive aid and blood sugar regulation agent.
Research from China's Sichuan University confirmed this last year when it found Terminalia chebula fruits able to reduce and balance blood sugar levels.
And new research from Italy has found the Haritake's polyphenol content make it anticarcinogenic to boot.
Yang MH, Avula B, Smillie T, Khan IA, Khan SI. Screening of Medicinal Plants for PPARα and PPARγ Activation and Evaluation of Their Effects on Glucose Uptake and 3T3-L1 Adipogenesis. Planta Med. 2013 Jul 22.
Pellati F, Bruni R, Righi D, Grandini A, Tognolini M, Pio Prencipe F, Poli F, Benvenuti S, Del Rio D, Rossi D. Metabolite profiling of polyphenols in a Terminalia chebula Retzius ayurvedic decoction and evaluation of its chemopreventive activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 May 20;147(2):277-85.
Silawat N, Gupta VB. Chebulic acid attenuates ischemia reperfusion induced biochemical alteration in diabetic rats. Pharm Biol. 2013 Jan;51(1):23-9.
Huang YN, Zhao DD, Gao B, Zhong K, Zhu RX, Zhang Y, Xie WJ, Jia LR, Gao H. Anti-Hyperglycemic Effect of Chebulagic Acid from the Fruits of Terminalia chebula Retz. Int J Mol Sci. 2012;13(5):6320-33.
Hye Yang M, Vasquez Y, Ali Z, Khan IA, Khan SI. Constituents from Terminalia species increase PPARα and PPARγ levels and stimulate glucose uptake without enhancing adipocyte differentiation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jul 10.
Harris G. Research Ties Diabetes Drug to Heart Woes. NY Times, 2010 Feb 19.