Humans have been using plants to feed and heal the body since we have been walking upright on two feet. That knowledge remains with us today. There are several philosophical and epistemic approaches to plant medicine that are still used including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda of India, and traditional western herbal medicine. Each approach works with its own catalog of favorite herbs and standard formulations. All of these approaches seek to work with and support the body’s own proclivity to heal. For those living with a chronic illness like type 2 diabetes (T2DM), plant medicine may provide enough of a push to tip body systems back into balance or homeostasis.
The body is a miraculous thing and is working 24/7 to stay healthy and to heal itself. I am in awe when I watch my body heal cuts and wounds seemingly like magic! That very same healing process takes place inside the body as well. The goal of plant medicine is to help the body do what it is naturally inclined to do. In this chapter, we’ll take a look at how the body tries to maintain balance and heal itself of a chronic illness like T2DM.
Herbal medicine and diabetes
T2DM is a complex disorder that interrupts the balance of several body systems and there are multiple mechanisms of action to treat diabetes which are targeted by pharmaceuticals. These same pathways may also be directly stimulated, inhibited, or supported by herbs. There are many herbs that have shown evidence-based hypoglycemic and anti-diabetic effects. Herbs may also be used as friends to support the body in other ways such as reducing inflammation, reducing diabetic neuropathic pain, and encourage wound healing. If you decide to try herbal medicine, Halebee recommends that you work with a registered herbalist to make sure that you are not counteracting or compounding the effects of any medication you may be taking.
Working with a registered herbalist
Working with herbs requires specialized knowledge of plants, human physiology, and the harvest and production environment. Halebee recommends that you work with a registered herbalist who can guide you. They will have a deep understanding of how plants work and their effects on the body. A registered herbalist will be able to ensure that any herbal supplements that you take do not have harmful side effects or cause any interactions with the medication you are taking.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has created two scales: a safety rating system for classifying herb safety and the second interaction class for what is currently known about an herb’s interactions with prescription or non-prescription drugs. If you decide to try an herbal supplement you can look up the herb rating for more information in the AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook.
|Table: AHPA Safety Ratings & Interaction Classes|
|Class 1||Herbs that can be safely consumed|
|Class 2a||For external use only|
|Class 2b||Not to be used during pregnancy|
|Class 2c||Not to be used while nursing|
|Class 2d||Other restrictions|
|Class A||No clinically interactions are expected|
|Class B||Clinically plausible interactions are possible|
|Class C||Clinically relevant interactions are known|
More resources on herbal medicine
- WHO Traditional, Complimentary and Integrative Medicine
- NCCIH page on Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Sloan Kettering Medical Center’s page on herbal medicine