Montreal research shows medicinal value of Cree healing herbs

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The Concordian (Concordia University)

MONTREAL (CUP) — The rate of diabetes among Aboriginals is three to five times the national average and affects approximately 20 per cent of the population.

Over the ages, a harsh climate made the Cree people genetically predisposed to energy efficiency. Their traditional diet consisted of wild game, fish and sea mammals, supplemented by forest plants and berries. To survive, their ancestors made minimal calories go a long way.

Consequently, the modern diet has taken a toll on the Cree, who experience high rates of obesity. Making matters worse, vehicles and motorboats have long replaced snowshoes and canoes as the preferred mode of transportation, resulting in less physical activity.

A study released on Nov. 5 is the latest in a series of articles that suggest Cree elders may have had part of the solution all along.

Led by Pierre Haddad, a senior pharmacologist at Université de Montréal, the Canadian Institute of Health Research Team in Aboriginal Antidiabetic Medicines is testing the efficacy of traditional medicinal plants in treating diabetes.

In the study, scientists asked Cree healers in four communities which plants they recommend to relieve symptoms associated with diabetes, like quivering hands or sores that won’t heal. The team gathered samples of 17 plants the healers recommended. The list was later whittled down to four. One of these, rhododendron tomentosum or Small Labrador tea, showed tremendous promise.

In both cells and rats, Small Labrador tea appears to inhibit the absorption of blood sugar, or glucose. Diabetics suffer from extreme spikes in glucose. The study’s results indicate that when taken at mealtime, Small Labrador tea may help slow this dangerous effect of the disease.

Dr. Jun-Li Liu, associate professor of medicine and a diabetes researcher at McGill University, called the study “an interesting lead,” warranting further research. But he cautioned that it will likely take 10 to 20 years before scientists can draw firm conclusions about the plant.

Haddad said this might be the most extensive study of Small Labrador tea yet. While others have studied traditional use of the plant and the symptoms it treated, they were the first to make the connection to its potential to treat diabetes.