Home Health The health benefits of lemon grass

The health benefits of lemon grass


Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

Although his doctor told him that he was most likely to have diabetes, Jerry never changed his habits and didn’t heed the doctor’s advice of losing 20 kilograms. To think of, his only sister had died of the said disease.

“I didn’t have that sense of urgency,” he said then. But nine months later, his condition had worsened. The doctors diagnosed him with diabetes.

“I should have followed what the doctors told me,” he says now. “I really never thought it would happen to me too soon.”

Considered as a “disease of affluence,” diabetes is now taking its place as one of the main threats to human health in the 21st century. According to the Geneva-based World Health Organization, the world will be home to 366 million people with diabetes by 2030. 

Most of those diabetics will be from developing countries. In the Philippines, for instance, some 500 Filipinos are being diagnosed with the condition every day. 

With the continued rise of diabetes incidence in the country, a lot of Filipinos are trying to find some ways to manage their diabetes. Among those that have been used in managing diabetes are ampalaya or bitter gourd and malunggay.

Lemon grass can be added to the list. It is recommended highly for those with Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, as it accounts for about 90% of all cases. In this type, the pancreas continues to produce insulin, sometimes even at higher-than-normal levels. But the body develops resistance to the effects of insulin, so there is not enough insulin to meet the body’s needs.

“About 95% of Filipino diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, mainly caused by lack of exercise and poor diet,” wrote Irene M. Villaseñor and Juane Marco B. Gonzales, authors of a paper published by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

The website of Organic Facts (www.organicfacts.net) gives this bit of information: “Lemon grass has been proven beneficial in treating Type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that the citral present in it helps maintain optimum levels of insulin and improves the tolerance of glucose in the body.”

Another website (www.healthyeating.sfgate.com) reported: “A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2007 looked at the impact of administering lemon grass to rats. After 42 days of taking 125 to 500 milligrams of lemon grass per kilogram of body weight once a day, the rates had improved fasting glucose levels.”

The study said that based on the results, the researchers claim that “lemon grass may help to treat or prevent diabetes” but added that “more research is needed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness for humans.”

One of the best ways to serve lemon grass is in the form of a tea. The following are needed: clumps of lemon grass, one cup of water, and coconut sugar to taste. The outer layer of lemon grass is peeled and discarded. The peeled clean leaves are boiled for 5 to 7 minutes. Coconut sugar may be added if required. Once done, the boiling water is poured into a cup and stirred before drinking it hot.

Coconut sugar is recommended because of its low glycemic index (GI) of 35. This is much lower than the 54 GI, the level which nutritionists consider as safe for people who have to watch their blood glucose level. Research results have shown that diabetics who use coconut sugar are able “to stabilize their blood sugar levels.”

Lemon grass comes in various names: barbed wire grass, silky heads, citronella grass, camel’s hay, cochin grass, and fever grass. In French, it is known as herbe de citron while Indians call it bhustrina or sera. In Thailand, it is known as takra, while Filipinos simply call it astanglad. Scientists have given the name Cymbopogon citratus for it.

Lemon grass is commonly used in teas, soups, and curries. The oil is used as a pesticide and preservative. The aromatic herb is used in Caribbean and many types of Asian cooking and has become very popular in the United States.

But one good thing about lemon grass is that it has been under study for its medicinal purposes. Lemon grass has 65-85 percent citral that contains active ingredients like myrcene, citronella, citronellol, and geraniol. Citral is a mobile pale-yellow liquid used in perfume and as flavoring; it can also be found in lemon peel.

“In addition to providing protection from harm caused by your body’s cells by free radicals and toxins, citral has strong antibacterial and antimicrobial abilities,” said the www.healthyeating.sfgate.com. “A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology and Research concluded that lemon grass extract, largely because of its high citral and other essential oil content, could help fight bacteria, both topically and when ingested.”

In some countries like Malaysia and those in Central America, lemon grass is cultivated for its oil (which is used in pharmaceutical preparations and skincare products). The Book of Herbs, authored by Dorothy Hall, said lemon grass contains vitamin A and is good for “those who wish to have bright eyes and a clear skin.”

Lemon grass has “many uses in folk or traditional medicine in many different cultures, and is a common home remedy for many ailments,” wrote the Asian Hospital and Medical Center (AHMC), which described lemon grass as “more than a kitchen condiment.”

For one, lemon grass has a detoxifying effect. “Lemon grass has been known to have a detoxifying effect on the body’s digestive system, specifically the pancreas, liver, kidney, and bladder,” the AHMC said. “The herb is said to help lower levels of uric acid, cholesterol, and other toxins in the body. In addition to this, it can help stimulate digestion. As a result, lemon grass can help prevent gastroenteritis and indigestion. The herb has also been known to promote blood circulation. People who suffer from high blood pressure may find that drinking lemon grass tea can reduce blood pressure.”

Regarding the antimicrobial properties of lemon grass, a study published in Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice in 2012 found that an oil extract from lemon grass inhibited growth of streptococcus bacteria in the laboratory.

Lemon grass is also a good mouthwash. Two tablespoonfuls of chopped leaves are soaked in one glass of hot water for 30 minutes. The infusion is strained first before being used as mouthwash.

How good is lemon grass in controlling cholesterol levels? A study done by the University of Wisconsin in 1989 found that people with high cholesterol who took 140-milligram capsules of lemon grass oil daily noticed a reduction in cholesterol levels. “They also experienced a significant decrease in blood fats,” the study said.

Like most herbs, lemon grass has some drawbacks. “Some people can experience food allergy symptoms after eating lemon grass, although this effect is fairly unusual,” wrote Joseph McAllister in an article published by Livestrong. “Individuals who are vulnerable to lemon grass allergies may experience an itchy skin rash or hives on the skin after eating lemon grass, as well as chest pain and constriction, throat swelling and difficulty breathing.”

There are also some precautions in using lemon grass oil. “People who are diabetic or hypoglycemic should avoid its application because the oil can reduce your blood glucose levels and is not recommended for people already on anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive medications,” the website www.newhealthadvisor.com, states. “Children, pregnant women or nursing mothers should not use the oil orally. People suffering from liver or kidney disorders should consult their physician first before using the oil.” 

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