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Medicinal Uses of Ipomoea Batatas

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Ipomoea batatas is the botanical name for sweet potato. Extracts from this starchy root vegetable and its leaves may offer health benefits. Some people use it to combat diabetes and heart disease, as well as for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. While there is clinical evidence to support these uses, it's crucial that you talk it over with your physician before taking a sweet potato supplement to treat a health condition. In addition, supplements may cause side effects.

Fights Heart Disease

The Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition confirms that sweet potato contains properties that help fight heart disease. A study published in the May 2011 edition shows that sweet potato leaves suppress low-density lipoprotein oxidation in humans. LDL is a bad form of cholesterol linked to heart disease. When it is oxidized -- that is, reacts with free radicals -- LDL becomes even more harmful and can cause inflammation and promote hardening of the arteries. Free radicals are atoms with an unpaired number of electrons that have the capacity to damage cells. The antioxidant activity of sweet potato neutralizes free radicals, so it helps prevent LDL oxidation.

Improves Glucose Control

Sweet potato is effective at promoting healthy blood sugar, according to a study published in the February 2004 issue of the journal Diabetes Care. In a follow-up experiment to a previous study, volunteers with type-2 diabetes took white sweet potato extract for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, researchers found that sweet potato significantly reduced cholesterol, fasting glucose and A1C, a long-term measurement of glucose control.

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May Help Fight Cancer

The high antioxidant activity of sweet potato appears to exert anti-cancer activity, according to an animal study published in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Scientists used an extract of baked sweet potato and found that it blocked cancer cells from spreading and induced death in human leukemia cells. The results suggested sweet potato possesses anti-cancer properties. Human studies are needed to know if the same effects occur in people, however.

Supplement Safety

Because of its ability to lower glucose, sweet potato supplement should be taken only under the supervision of your doctor if you have diabetes. Your physician needs to monitor your condition and may have to adjust your medication. In general, taking supplements for medicinal purposes requires your health care provider's supervision. No common adverse effects have been reported from the supplement, but people sensitive to substances in sweet potato have developed rashes, abnormal drops in blood pressure and dizziness.

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