Despite the progress made in the treatment of diabetes, several challenges are still encountered. These include the side effects associated with these medications, the high cost of most of these drugs and their activities which address the symptoms of diabetes rather than the underlying causes.
Now, experts say that African locust beans (Parkia biglobosa) are effective for mitigating complications of diabetes in organs of the body such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas.
Poorly controlled diabetes could cause damage to the large blood vessels of the heart, brain and legs (macrovascular complications) and damage to the small blood vessels, causing problems in the eyes, kidneys, feet and nerves (microvascular complications).
Diabetes mellitus is a major threat to global public health that affects three per cent of the population worldwide. Effective management of the disease is based on the use of agents that possess blood glucose-lowering properties.
African locust bean is commonly consumed in the diet of individuals in parts of Nigeria. It is known as dawadawa (Hausa), ogiri (Igbo) and Iru (Yoruba) in some Nigerian languages.
The Igbo and Yoruba people use it in their traditional systems to treat different illnesses or diseases. Various parts of its plant are used for this purpose including the seeds, leaves and bark.
The seeds, either in their unprocessed or fermented form, are soaked in water or left overnight to allow for extraction by maceration. The next morning this is filtered and the extract consumed to treat diabetes mellitus.
African locust bean plant is also used in folkloric medicine in the treatment of leprosy, hypertension, wound healing, bacterial infections and diarrhoea.
In determining African locust beans’ efficacy in mitigating diabetic complications, researchers at the Univerisity of Benin fed its water extract to rats and checked for toxicity. They also used different concentrations for treated diabetic rats. It was in the 2019 edition of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
After two weeks of treatment, the animals were sacrificed and their blood samples as well as internal organs (liver, kidneys and pancreas) collected for assessment.
The acute toxicity study revealed no death when water extract of African locust bean was administered even at doses as high as 5000/ mg/kg. No death was reported over the two-week observation period.
The various doses of this extract caused a significant increase in red blood cell count and haemoglobin levels in comparison to the diabetic control. These are diabetic rats that received only distilled water.
Weight loss is a common feature seen in diabetes mellitus due to the degradation of structural proteins and muscle wasting. Diabetic rats treated with the various doses of African locust bean aqueous extract had weights which were not significantly different from the normal control.
Also, the extract at various doses slowed liver and kidney deterioration in these streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. The pancreas of the Africa locust bean treated groups revealed various degrees of improvement.
From this study, African locust bean extract at 400 mg/kg dose showed the best efficacy in ameliorating complications of diabetes in organs of the body such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas.
They declared: “These observations show that Parkia biglobosa helps to prevent complications of diabetes hence, could be recommended as a part of the diet of diabetic patients.”
However, they said more drug interaction studies should be carried out to determine if harmful drug interactions between antidiabetic medications and African locust beans exist.
Previously, many researchers had corroborated the blood sugar and cholesterol effects of the fermented seeds of African locust beans. Also, some showed that it contains a protein that is protective against the damages caused by diabetes on testes of rats.
Local research has shown that locust bean helps to promote good sight and drives away hypertension and disease conditions like stroke and diabetes.
In another result published in Science Journal based in Dakar, Senegal, researchers tried out locust beans on rats to find out whether it actually has any impact on controlling blood pressure and the result obtained showed that adequate doses of locust beans helped to decrease arterial blood pressure.
A number of clinical studies have been carried out in recent years that show plant-based therapies that have anti-diabetic properties to include Aloe vera, bitter melon, ginger and okra.
One review, published in 2013 suggested that aloe vera might help protect and repair the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Similarly, in 2015, a review suggested that ginger lowered blood sugar levels, but did not lower blood insulin levels, suggesting that ginger may reduce insulin resistance in the body for type 2 diabetes.