Banaba Tree: The Source of the Next Anti-Diabetes Wonder Drug

Diabetes milletus is one of the most common diseases worldwide. According to the latest estimates, there are approximately 246 million diabetes patients worldwide. What is more alarming is that the number of people with diabetes is increasing at a fast rate. By 2025, experts predict that there will be about 380 million individuals that will suffer from diabetes.

And diabetes is not just a simple disease. It is fatal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes claims six lives per minute. That comes to 8,700 fatalities per day. One in 20 deaths worldwide can be attributed to diabetes. Diabetes is indeed a pandemic.

While there are several anti-diabetic drugs that are available in the market today, most of these are rather expensive. Depending on the form and severity, conventional diabetes treatment ranges from a quite affordable $1,000 annually to a sky-high $15,000 a year. The reason for the high cost of diabetes treatment lies on the disease’s complexity. The problem with diabetes is that it does not only affects blood sugar levels but also causes other major complications, such as, cardiovascular and renal problems. So imagine the burden to the pocket of a patient who will regularly need to buy insulin shots along with a long line of heart or kidney drugs.

With the difficulty of producing raw drug ingredients, current diabetes medicines are getting more and more expensive to manufacture. Rich people may be able to afford spending for these costly medicines in the long run, but for the vast majority of diabetes patients who live on moderate or even less than average income, procuring ever expensive diabetes drugs in the long run may not be a luxury that comes easily. That is why scientists across the globe are now embarking on a race to search for new effective anti-diabetic compounds that would be not be as expensive to mass produce as current sources of mainstream diabetes drugs. One such promising compound is corosolic acid. Extracted from the leaves of the banaba tree (Lagerstroemia speciosa), corosolic acid has insulin-like activity and lowers abnormal blood sugar levels.

Researchers from Japan, particularly Dr. Yamazaki of the Hiroshima University School of Medicine, were the first ones to isolate corosolic acid from banaba leaf extract and discover its insulin-like properties. However, banaba leaf has been used for centuries as an anti-diabetes supplement in the Philippines even before scientific studies have validated its efficacy.

Banaba tree grows conspicuously and requires little maintenance. In the Philippines, it can be found in most rural areas and usually grows by itself. Therefore, any product that comes from the banaba tree would come at a cheap price. A testament to that is the low rate of banaba leaf extract. It would not be illogical to assume that a corosolic acid based diabetes drug would have a lower price tag compared to current conventional anti-diabetic medication.

Yet research on the efficacy of corosolic acid as an anti-diabetes compound is still in its early phases. Although the initial results are very promising, more research to scientifically validate its efficacy on fighting diabetes is necessary.