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Bitter, not sweet: Managing diabetes with neem
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Bitter, not sweet: Managing diabetes with neem

The bioactive compounds and antioxidants present in neem leaves can help lower blood sugar levels in diabetics
Neem leaves can enhance insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to effectively utilise insulin and lower blood glucose levels
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Neem is a medicinal plant used for healing several ailments. It is also included in various cosmetic products. However, diabetologists and nutritionists point out that neem leaves can play a role in diabetes management as well, when coupled with a healthy diet and active lifestyle. It has been pointed out that neem increases insulin sensitivity and enhances insulin secretion.

Benefits of neem for diabetes

Delhi based dietitian Avni Kaul explains that while neem leaves are not a cure for this metabolic disorder, they may offer some potential benefits in managing blood sugar levels.

According to Soumita Biswas, chief nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru, the anti-diabetic properties of neem leaves are known to improve insulin sensitivity, leading to an increase in glucose uptake in the muscles and other cells.

Dr Anusha Nadig, associate consultant, endocrinology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, says, “Neem reduces insulin resistance and could play a role in delaying the onset of diabetes.” She adds that the leaf and bark of neem also increase antioxidant levels in the blood.

“Neem leaves contain various bioactive compounds like flavonoids, glycosides and triterpenoids, which contribute to their anti-diabetic properties,” explains Kaul.

“Together, these compounds can help manage diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation and improving insulin function,” she adds.

Bengaluru-based diabetologist Dr Ashwitha Shruti Dass explains that while none of her clients took neem as a treatment, they tried it as a natural therapy when suggested by family and friends.

“They have noticed a mild reduction in blood sugar levels,” explains Dr Dass.

How neem leaves help regulate insulin levels

Kaul explains that neem leaves aid in reducing blood sugar levels through various mechanisms.

She says that neem leaves enhance insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to effectively utilise insulin and lower blood glucose levels. They also stimulate insulin production by pancreatic beta cells, promoting the release of insulin into the bloodstream.

“Neem leaves inhibit the enzymes responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates into glucose, thereby reducing glucose absorption from the intestine,” explains Kaul.

Incorporating neem in the diet

Experts explain that diabetics can consume neem leaves in several ways. According to Kaul, the best way to consume neem for maximum benefits is by preparing tea with neem leaves, which provides a concentrated dose of the bioactive compounds that help in reducing sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity.

“To make neem tea, boil about 10­­­­­­­­­­­­­­-15 fresh or dried neem leaves in water for 5-10 minutes. Then strain the mixture and drink the tea while it is warm,” says Kaul.

She also suggests adding neem leaf powder to beverages like smoothies, juices or soups, but says that it may be necessary to sweeten the tea or mix the powder with other ingredients to make it more palatable because of its bitterness.

According to Biswas, neem leaves can be incorporated in vegetable preparations or can also be tempered with some spices and consumed as a side dish.

According to Dr Nadig, a diabetic can chew up to four to five leaves in the morning to get its benefits, but should consult his/her doctor first.

Avoid neem sticks for dental care

Kaul points out that although neem sticks are used in dental care, those with diabetes should be careful, as they could lead to gum bruises that might take longer to heal due to fluctuating blood glucose levels.

Biswas points out that people who have kidney problems or are on a vitamin K-restricted diet shouldn’t consume neem. “It should only be consumed under medical supervision, as diabetics can experience hypoglycemia due to overconsumption of neem leaves,” she cautions.

According to Kaul, pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid neem due to its contraceptive and abortifacient properties.

Kaul explains that neem leaves may interact with certain medications like immunosuppressants, antidiabetic drugs or blood thinners. Some individuals may also be allergic to neem leaves.

“If you have diabetes, consult with your dietician prior to incorporating neem or any other herbal remedy into your routine,” cautions Kaul.

Takeaways

  • Neem leaves can play a role in diabetes management. They enhance insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to effectively utilise insulin and lower blood glucose levels. They also promote release of insulin into the bloodstream.
  • People with diabetes can incorporate neem in their diet in several ways, including preparing tea, incorporating the leaves in vegetable preparations and adding neem leaf powder to beverages.
  • People with diabetes should consult their dietician prior to incorporating neem or any other herbal remedy into their routine.

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