Rosemary Helps Increase Sugar Metabolism

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Rosmarinus officinalis is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needles and white, pink, purple or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region.

However, you probably know it as rosemary. It adds a distinct flavor to meats and stews, and it can also be infused into oils.

Rosemary derives its name from the Latin words for “dew of the sea” because in many locations, it needs no water to grow other than the humidity carried by the sea breeze. The plant is also sometimes called anthos, from the ancient Greek word which means “flower.”

It’s member of the mint family, which includes many other medicinal herbs. These minty herbs have been used for thousands of years in digestive elixirs for everything from upset stomachs to bleeding ulcers.

Besides digestive support, rosemary is believed to improve memory and reduce oxidative stress. And now, current research is showing that it may help treat diabetes as well.

Rosemary Activates Metabolic Pathways

Many years of collecting animal data have shown that rosemary could play a role in helping reduce blood sugar levels and initiate weight loss.

As a matter of fact, a mouse study showed that adding rosemary leaf extract to a high fat diet actually resulted in weight loss and not the expected increase in body fat and weight.1

But rosemary’s exact mechanism of action was not known until recently. A study published this year in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry shows that rosemary may activate energy sensing molecules inside cells, leading to the activation of fat and sugar catabolic pathways.2

This was a cell culture study using liver cells. The researchers wanted to test rosemary’s effect on liver metabolic pathways of fats and sugars. Could rosemary actually activate fat and sugar metabolism and produce energy in the cells?

Rosemary Extract Increases Sugar Consumption

In the study, rosemary extract at 2, 10 and 50 micrograms/milliliter was infused into the liver cell cultures. The researchers then measured sugar consumption and compared it to a standard concentration of the diabetic drug metformin.

Here’s what they found at the different concentrations:

  • Rosemary at 2 micrograms/ml increased sugar consumption by 6%
  • Rosemary at 10 micrograms/ml increased sugar consumption by 13%
  • Rosemary at 50 micrograms/ml increased sugar consumption by 21%
  • Standardized metformin concentration increased sugar consumption by 22%
All three rosemary concentrations increased sugar metabolism by the liver cells. But most amazing was the fact that the highest concentration increased sugar metabolism almost as much as the powerful drug metformin.

Rosemary’s Future in Treating Diabetics

So, now what? Well, the cell culture study certainly gives us a great starting point. Now we need to translate this cell data into human clinical data.

Of course, this will take some time … and money. Dose, safety and efficacy all need to be documented. The last step, of course, is manufacturing.

In the meantime, be sure to cook with rosemary whenever you can! Releasing the beneficial oils naturally by slow cooking it in stews, sauces and soups is probably the best way to help burn some excess sugar.

At least until a supplement product is developed, that is!


  1. Planta Med. 2010 Apr;76(6):566-71. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1240612.
  2. J. Agric. Food Chem., Publication Date (Web):February 22, 2013. DOI: 10.1021/jf400298c


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