Will Gymnema Sylvestre

If you're sweet on sweets, you may wish for a pill you could pop that would reduce your appetite for sugar, a supplement that could magically and painlessly curb your appetite. You'd run right out to stock up, right?

Gymnema sylvestre, a supplement sold in health food stores and specialty stores, is believed by some to do just that. But while it is thought by some to reduce cravings for sweets, there's not solid proof that it works.

And any individual considering taking the supplement should check in with their health care provider first—especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.

"There are just not a ton of studies on gymnema sylvestre," says Kenneth Spaeth, MD, of North Shore-LIJ Health Systems in Great Neck, NY. "There is some research that shows that it can have a modest effect on the blood sugar and could have other benefits, too."

But with no large-scale studies done yet on gymnema sylvestre, it's simply too soon for medical experts to recommend taking it, Spaeth says. "As a general rule, there are very few herbal supplements that are recommended by the mainstream medical world," he explains. "There is just not enough evidence right now to justify recommending it to people."

Gymnema sylvestre works by altering an individual's taste perception, Spaeth explains. It has the effect of making a food taste less sweet, he says. "Whether or not that will lead to a loss of cravings, I can't say," Spaeth says. "That's because a lot of cravings come from the brain, not from the tongue."

For those interested in taking gymnema sylvestre as a supplement, the typical dose is 200 to 400 mg, Spaeth says.

"I wouldn't take much beyond that," he warns. "There are toxic effects once you get to higher levels. It can affect the liver. But used in moderation, it does not seem to have toxicity."

If you decide to take gymnema sylvestre, Spaeth cautions, it's important to know that, like other herbal supplements, it's not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Some groups voluntarily submit their products for testing, but this is voluntary," he says. "There is no way for the public to know if it has been done properly. If a product comes from overseas, it could be contaminated with other substances.

This lack of regulation is the downside of taking herbal extracts and supplements, says Cheryl Reitz, RD, CDE, of the Cleveland Clinic.

"You don't get the same regulation with herbal supplements as you would get with medications," she says.

And, Reitz adds, knowing how much to take of a supplement like gymnema can be tricky since the dose may not be standardized. "It probably varies depending on how it is processed," she says. "The bottles give some suggestions on dosing, but this is just the suggested dose."

Kenneth Spaeth, MD. reviewed this article.