Traditional Chinese herbal medicines have been found to effectively slow the progression from prediabetes to diabetes diagnosis in a clinical trial.

Pre-diabetic condition occurs when a person has high blood sugar but normal glucose levels. People who are pre-diabetic have a higher risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and stroke.

"With diabetes evolving into a serious public health burden worldwide, it is crucial to take steps to stem the flood of cases. Patients often struggle to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels, and current medications have limitations and can have adverse gastrointestinal side effects," Doctor Chun-Su Yuan of University of Chicago, one of the study's authors, said in a press release.

Yuan said that traditional Chinese herbs can be used to control blood sugar levels, either by consuming alone or in combination with other treatments.

For the study, the researchers asked 389 participants at 11 research sites in China to take either Tianqi (a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines) or a placebo, three times a day before meals, for a year. They were asked to maintain their physical fitness.

At the end of the trial, the researchers found that 36 participants, who belonged to the Tianqi group developed diabetes when compared to 56 from the placebo group. They also discovered that Tianqi lowered the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent.

The participants reported few side effects from the Tianqi herbs. It lowers blood glucose levels and enhances control over the levels after meals.

"Few controlled clinical trials have examined traditional Chinese medicine's impact on diabetes, and the findings from our study showed this approach can be very useful in slowing the disease's progression, Doctor Xiaolin Tong of Guang'anmen Hospital in Beijing, China and one of the study's lead authors said.

Tong said that further research is required to determine how Chinese herbal medicines can help prevent and control diabetes.

The study will be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).