Diabetes Patient Uses Herbal Remedies to Treat Disease

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SAN JUAN — Some diabetes patients in the Rio Grande Valley are taking an alternative approach to modern medicine. They’re using traditional Mexican remedies to cure their chronic illness.

Guadalupe Garza said she found her favorite plant at a flea market. The leaves it bears are thought to make a person feel better.

Garza said the leaves are bitter. The plant the diabetic patient uses for medicinal purposes is called neem.

“I use two or three of these leaves in a tea, every day,” Garza said. “My blood sugar was at 300. Now it's at 140."  

Garza’s diagnosis came six months ago. “I have more faith in these herbs than the pills,” she said.

Angela Salinas practices healing at a yerberia in Alamo. She sells icons and ingredients to promote spiritual and physical healing.

“I tell people, ‘Do the old fashioned thing,’” Salinas said. “Do what our parents, great grandparents grew up with.”

Healers claim certain herbs will help with diabetes. Salinas’s most popular herb is moringa.

“Boil it, drain out the water, and take this three times a day,” she said.

The herbs are used in teas. For diabetes, healers suggest using bay leaves and cinnamon or Japanese garlic. They said these can help with blood sugar.

Dr. Brian Wickwire, with Nuestra Clinica Del Valley, said he’s not aware of a rigorous scientific study to back healers’ claims.

"Herbal intakes are fine, but should not replace standard medical therapy,” Wickwire said. “You still need to see your doctor. You still need to take your medication.”

Herbs to treat diabetes are medically unproven. One tradition Mexican remedy, nopales, does help a bit.

"Nopales have been shown to, as part of a regular diet, as a vegetable, to slightly decrease the blood sugar,” Wickwire said.

It’s possible these herbs have a mental effect. People feel good and belief is a placebo.

"I'm sure there is a placebo effect to these treatments,” Wickwire said. “There's nothing wrong with a placebo effect, but please check your A1C in the meantime."

A1C is a test for high blood sugar. Wickwire said people need to get tested.

Guadalupe Garza said she plays close attention to her blood sugar. She said her treatment includes remedies that are modern and from the past.

Healer Angela Salinas said people can use herbs, but they should check with their doctor first. Certain herbs can interfere with medication.

Dr. Wickwire said people who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t take moringa or the combination of bay leaves and cinnamon. Children should not consume herbs.

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