Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience.
Fact-checked by Aditya Nar, B.Pharm, MSc. Public Health and Health Economics.
The successful discovery, manufacturing and marketing of new medicines is a time-consuming process that can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years. No wonder then, in recent times, a lot of research focuses on studying local natural medicines that have already been in use by the natives of a particular place.
In the year 2012, two researchers in Tamil Nadu carried out a study of the plants traditionally used by tribals in the Kolli hills (located in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district) to treat diabetes. An interesting find was the use of leaves of Keukand (in Hindi) or Kostam (in Tamil). (1)
This plant is native to Central and South America and only came to India much later. But once it did, it grew increasingly popular as the “Insulin plant,” supposedly due to word-of-mouth publicity as an effective natural diabetes medicine.
Ok, but what does the science say?
Lots of research has been conducted to check the diabetes-controlling effect of this insulin plant: 17 different studies have been carried out on animals and animal tissue. These studies have shown that extracts from the leaves of the insulin plant successfully reduced blood glucose levels. (2)
As for regular insulin therapy, here’s everything you need to know about it.
Alright…and human studies?
Now, this is where the research is yet to catch up. Only one study has been conducted on persons with diabetes so far, at the Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India. The study found that chewing on one fresh leaf of the insulin plant or consuming 1 teaspoon of the dried leaf powder daily helps in regulating blood glucose levels in persons with diabetes. The authors of this study suggested that since they observed the effects to kick in from the 15th day of consumption, it is important for the leaf to be taken regularly to see a beneficial effect. (3)
Before you start hunting for the insulin plant at your local nursery, here’s another research finding that you must consider. A study of the leaves of the insulin plant showed that they contain high quantities of palmitic acid. This substance is known to have harmful effects, such as damaging of heart muscle cells in rats and increasing the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in humans. So, the researchers of this study advise against the long and continuous use of the insulin plant. (4)
Therefore, more research is needed that confirms the insulin plant’s positive effects on blood glucose, apart from ensuring that it is safe for humans. Until then, it is best to wait before reaching out for this natural cure.
If you are looking for natural ways to control your diabetes, here are four research-backed home remedies you might want to try out.
- S. Elavarasi, K. Saravanan. Ethnobotanical Study of Plants used to treat Diabetes by Tribal People of Kolli Hills, Namakkal District, Tamil Nadu. International Journal of PharmTech Research · March 2012 Available online at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Saravanan_K3/publication/256296150_Ethnobotanical_Study_of_Plants_used_to_treat_Diabetes_by_Tribal_People_of_Kolli_Hills_Namakkal_DistrictTamilnadu_Southern_India/links/0c960522346df3d3f5000000/Ethnobotanical-Study-of-Plants-used-to-treat-Diabetes-by-Tribal-People-of-Kolli-Hills-Namakkal-District-Tamilnadu-Southern-India.pdf
- P.L. Hegde, H.A. Rao, P.N. Rao. A review on Insulin plant (Costus igneus Nak). Pharmacognosy Review. 2014; 8(15); 74-72 DOI: 10.4103/0973-7847.125536 Available online at: http://www.phcogrev.com/article.asp?issn=0973-7847;year=2014;volume=8;issue=15;spage=67;epage=72;aulast=Hegde
- A.J. Shetty, S.M. Parampalli, R. Bhandarkar, S. Kotian. Effect Of The Insulin Plant ( Costus Igneus ) Leaves On Blood Glucose Levels In Diabetic Patients: A Cross Sectional Study. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2010, June; 4(3); 2617 – 2621
- B. Jose, L.J. Reddy. Analysis Of The Essential Oils Of The Stems, Leaves And Rhizomes Of The Medicinalplant Costus Pictus From Southern India. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2010; 2(2) Available online at: http://www.ijppsjournal.com/Vol2Suppl2/533.pdf