In Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, mulberry is an important herbal remedy. It's used to prevent and alleviate symptoms associated with impaired nutrient metabolism. The leaves and bark are used in many herbal formulas, and the fruits, which are exceptionally sweet (I think they taste like a mix between wild blueberries, mountain saskatoon berries, and raw honey made from the pollen of wild flowers), are eaten or enjoyed in teas.
Mulberry Leaves for Making the Body Lighter
Across east Asia, mulberry leaf (commonly known as sang ye in China) is popularly used as a daily tea to maintain a svelte figure and clear skin. The herb is sweet, bitter, and cooling. It has a long list of beneficial properties.
It clears toxins from the liver (and is therefore classified as a blood tonic), reduces inflammation in the lungs, and revitalizes aging cells (modern research now attributes these properties to the powerful antioxidants the leaf contains). It also promotes healthy sugar and fat metabolism and is used to alleviate the symptoms associated with diabetes.
The blood sugar lowering and fat metabolizing properties of this herb attracted the attention of researchers and recent hypotheses about its potential mechanisms of action have emerged.
1. Mulberry leaves contain compounds that inhibit the activity of certain sugar-metabolizing enzymes. Your body uses a myriad of enzymes to break down carbohydrates and among these is an important class called glucosidases. These enzymes exist throughout the body and they have different functions. In the small intestine, these enzymes help break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that can be absorbed across the intestinal epithelia and into the bloodstream.
Because mulberry leaves contain compounds that inhibit the activity of these enzymes, they decrease the amount of dietary sugar that enters your bloodstream. This reduces the number of calories you take in, stabilizes blood sugar levels following a meal, and curbs surges of sugar that weaken the pancreas.
Some anti-diabetic pharmaceutical drugs that are analogues of certain plant compounds act in the same way—they inhibit the activity of glucosidases. However, these pharmaceutical drugs cause many undesirable side effects whereas mulberry leaves do not.
2. Mulberry leaves activate the synthesis and activity of fat-burning enzymes. Laboratory research on animals suggest that mulberry leaves can stimulate the transcription of genes that code for enzymes involved in the metabolism of fat. By increasing the amount and activity of these cellular enzymes, particularly in the liver, mulberry leaves help:
- decrease the amount of fat that is stored for later use
- lower the amount of circulating fat and therefore support cardiovascular health
- indirectly promote satiety.
3. Mulberry leaves are rich in strong antioxidants that help reduce diabetic complications. All parts of the mulberry tree contain powerful antioxidants including resveratrol, quercetin, and rutin. These are important nutrients that help reduce the free radical induced cellular damage that is common in people who have diabetes.
A deficiency in endogenous and exogenous antioxidants is thought to contribute to, and be a consequence of, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. The antioxidants found in mulberry also beneficially affect cell physiology in other ways, including regulation of DNA replication and transcription. Overall, this protects the body from various inflammatory and degenerative diseases.
4. Mulberry helps to regulate appetite by affecting the activity of specific receptors in the hypothalamus. Compounds in mulberry leaf extract bind to one of the receptors for a hormone called melanin-concentrating hormone (abbreviated as MCH). In the hypothalamus, MCH regulates appetite and eating behaviour, mood, and the sleep-wake cycle.
When MCH binds to the MCH1 receptor in the hypothalamus, it increases appetite and encourages eating. On the other hand, when active compounds found in mulberry leaf bind to MCH1, they block receptor activity and either inhibit sensations of hunger and/or induce a sense of satiety. Either way, mulberry leaf extract tells your brain the body doesn't need more food and it's not necessary to "create" feelings of hunger.
Recently, a study on mice showed that daily intake of mulberry leaf extract reduced:
- food intake
- fat deposition in all cells including liver cells
- total body weight.
While there aren't many sound data from rigorous clinical studies to support the appetite suppressing effects of mulberry leaf, Asians have been using this herb for centuries to moderate appetite.
Because MCH also regulates mood and sleep behaviour, this can explain why mulberry leaf extract has a gentle mood enhancing effect (in Traditional Chinese Medicine it's also used to relieve tension headaches and stress induced tinnitus). As it promotes relaxation and release of tension, mulberry leaf also helps promote restful sleep. However, it doesn't cause drowsiness.
Plants like the mulberry tree are often favoured by herbalists because they have many beneficial and tonic effects on the body, gently shift the body to a healthier state, and when taken alone have no side effects even after prolonged use.
Note: If you are taking any prescription or over the counter medications, or if you are taking any herbs that lower blood sugar, please consult a health care practitioner prior to using mulberry leaf. Combining mulberry leaf with any of these could cause significant drops in blood sugar levels.