More than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 1 in 4 are likely unaware that they have the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. As the cost of care for diabetes patients and the overall presence of it continues to increase, news of a possible natural treatment is offering hope.

Researchers are currently studying the effects of a rainforest vine called ayahuasca, a psychoactive plant that contains a key ingredient that may play a role in reversing diabetes.

“Diabetes involves either an inadequate production of pancreatic beta cells, which are responsible for the production of insulin, or a failure on the part of pancreatic beta cells to actually produce enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar,” Chris Kilham, The Medicine Hunter, told FoxNews.com from Peru. “Scientists have wondered for decades, ‘Is there a way to stimulate more growth of pancreatic beta cells in the human body?’”

Kilham added that in humans, pancreatic beta cells develop within the first year of life, and continue to work to keep blood sugar levels stable to prevent the development of diabetes. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists reported that the alkaloid harmine, which is found in the ayahuasca vine, actually causes the production of new pancreatic beta cells. Harmine is also found in a plant called Syrian Rue, which may also be a source of the alkaloid.

“But what the scientists found was that introducing this alkaloid harmine into a living system resulted in the proliferation of pancreatic beta cells,” Kilham said. 

“This is a very big breakthrough,” he said, adding that it could potentially mean that type 2 diabetics might be able to achieve a reversal of their condition by taking harmine in some form, while type 1 diabetes patients might be able to produce healthy new pancreatic beta cells, therefore no longer requiring insulin therapy or being considered diabetic.

Kilham cautioned that the science is still relatively new, and the study’s authors said harmine alone won’t cure diabetes. Moving forward, researchers will need to find a way to specifically target beta cells with this chemical, without it appearing elsewhere in the body.

The next phase of research may take time, but the discovery could lead to the development of drugs that may one day reverse diabetes.

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