What is Banaba?
Banaba is a plant native to tropical areas of Southern Asia. The plant is also known as the pride of India, giant crape-myrtle or by its scientific name Lagerstroemia speciosa.
The leaves of the plant are used to make an herbal remedy with a long history of traditional use especially in India and other parts of Southern Asia. Banaba leaf extract is available today in supplementary form and is used for various ailments including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight loss.
Banaba is rich in a compound called corosolic acid which is known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well as the ability to reduce blood sugar levels. The leaves of the plant also contain compounds known as ellagitannins which have natural antioxidant effects.
The tree itself grows to a height of around 20 meters and is widely cultivated for ornamental purposes in many tropical areas. The banaba leaves are commonly used in Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in an herbal tea preparation. In the Philippines, the Department of Health promotes the uses of banaba as a medicinal plant especially to help reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Health Benefits of Banaba
1) For Diabetes
Banaba is probably best known and certainly most commonly used for its ability to keep blood sugar levels under control. According to estimates, at least 25 million adults and children suffer from diabetes in the US alone with tens of millions more having the disease worldwide. To put that into some sort of perspective, it represents around 8% of the entire population of the US. More worrying is that we have seen a 14 fold increase in those diagnosed since 1960.
With few signs of the trend reversing, there is a need to find a safe and natural alternative to diabetes medications. Like most pharmaceuticals, diabetes drugs come with a risk of severe side effects including heart failure. Fortunately, studies have uncovered a number of natural remedies that could help keep the condition in check and one of the most promising is banaba.
Banaba has traditionally been used in parts of Asia including in Ayurveda; the Indian system of medicine; to reduce blood sugar levels and treat people with diabetes. As with many traditional, herbal remedies it has taken some time for modern societies to catch up but research suggests that banaba does have a very important role to play in blood sugar management.
Research indicates that the corosolic acid present in banaba leaves has the ability to regulate blood sugar and treat diabetes. Researchers have found that the compound can stimulate the uptake of glucose in isolated cells. Some studies show that the effects are very fast and can help reduce blood sugars in as little as 60 to 90 minutes.
Many laboratory studies and a few done on animals had already showed the potential of corosolic acid in regulating blood sugar. In 2006, researchers set out to analyze its effects on 31 adult participants including nineteen with diabetes and another seven with poor glucose tolerance. The researchers found that those treated with corosolic acid experienced reduced blood glucose levels after just an hour becoming statistically significant after 90 minutes. This study was the first to confirm that corosolic acid had a blood sugar reducing effect in humans. (1)
A number of animal studies and several human studies have added weight to the traditional use of banaba to regulate blood sugar levels and treat people with diabetes and pre-diabetes. The good news for people with diabetes is that not only is banaba effective but studies done to date indicate that it is a safe alternative to pharmaceutical anti-diabetic medications. (2)
2) Weight Loss Benefits
One very interesting potential side effect of the blood sugar control offered by banaba leaf is that it may help you to lose some weight or at least keep it under control. Studies into the blood sugar level effects of the herb have also consistently revealed that taking banaba resulted in steady weight loss of around 2 to 4 pounds a month.
In one study published in 2016, researchers analyzed the weight loss effects of a mixture of banaba, green coffee beans, Moringa oleifeira and vitamin D. The researchers found that this blend resulted in improved body mass composition and a reduction in body fat. (3)
It may work because its ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels also help to reduce overall intake of calories resulting in modest but effective long-term weight loss. Because of this, banaba extract is often found as an ingredient in weight control formulas.
3) Heart Health and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is defined as a larger group of conditions which can increase a person’s chance of developing heart disease or having a stroke. The conditions referred to include obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure and inflammation. According to preliminary research, banaba leaf may have the potential to treat many of the conditions related to metabolic syndrome.
In 2006, Japanese researchers from Mukogawa university tested the effects of banaba leaf against various conditions related to metabolic syndrome. After being treated with banaba leaf for 10 weeks, the researchers found that participants had lower blood pressure, lower inflammation, reduced oxidative stress and normalized fat metabolism. The researchers noted that the coroslic acid found in banaba was likely responsible for these positive effects. (4)
By treating these conditions, banaba may also help reduce the risk of serious diseases like heart disease and stroke.
When it comes to finding a treatment for cancer, researchers continue to look to nature to find an effective cure. One of the many plants that has demonstrated potential against the disease is banaba. Chinese researchers from Changhai hospital isolated the corosolic acid from banaba leaves and tested its effects against cervical cancer in vitro. (5)
The researchers found that the corosolic acid helped to stimulate the release of enzymes that were deadly to cancer cells without harming any healthy cells. The results are promising and justify further research in the future.
How To Use Banaba Leaf
Banaba leaves have traditionally been used to make a tea which has been drunk for many years to cure various health problems. Today however, banaba is readily available in supplementary form from online or at many health stores.
Make sure that you read any labeling instructions carefully in order to find the correct dosage. Banaba is considered safe at the correct dosage but if you are unsure about taking banaba or any other herbal supplement, please consult your doctor.
Precautions and Side Effects
- Banaba is considered to be safe for most adults when taken at the appropriate dosage for up to three months at a time. However, there are some precautions that you should be aware of.
- Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should avoid taking banaba. There is insufficient scientific data on its safety for the unborn child or the infant. As with any other herbal supplements, pregnant women should stay on the safe side and avoid using it.
- There are some potential side effects related to certain steroidal compounds found in the herb. They can cause skin reactions including worsened acne.
- Banaba may interact with diabetes medications and other herbal supplements that regulate blood sugar levels. Taking banaba along with diabetic medication may cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low.