The study was a collaboration between researchers from the Brigham Young University (BYU) and Virginia Tech and was funded, in part, by the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation and the American Diabetes Association. Researchers at Virginia Tech first carried out the experiment by feeding the cocoa compound to rats on a high-fat diet. The results showed that when the compound was added to the high-fat diet, it reduced the level of obesity in the animals. Moreover, it enhanced their ability to react to the increased blood sugar levels.
After that, the BYU team analyzed the results at the beta-cell level. They found that the epicatechin monomers found in cocoa improved the ability of beta cells to release insulin.
“What happens is it's protecting the cells, it's increasing their ability to deal with oxidative stress. The epicatechin monomers are making the mitochondria in the beta cells stronger, which produces more ATP (a cell's energy source), which then results in more insulin being released,” author of the study Jeffery Tessem, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics and food science at BYU, explained.
However, Tessem said that the compounds will only work if a lot of cocoa is consumed and if it is taken without sugar. Tessem and his team are working on discovering ways to separate the compound out of cocoa, reproduce it, and then use it as a possible cure for current diabetes patients.
“These results will help us get closer to using these compounds more effectively in foods or supplements to maintain normal blood glucose control and potentially even delay or prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes,” said Andrew Neilson of Virginia Tech, co-author of the study.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that develops when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or when the body cannot efficiently manage the insulin it makes. Blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the main source of energy and comes from the food consumed. According to the records of the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 422 million people in 2014 who suffered from diabetes, which was a drastic increase from 108 million people in 2011. Moreover, approximately 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes in 2015, and the WHO projects that the disease will be the seventh major cause of death by 2030.
There are several ways on how the development of the disease can be prevented, as suggested by the WHO. One of these ways is to reach and maintain a healthy body weight. Moreover, exercising regularly is important to prevent diabetes. Another way is to eat a healthy diet and refrain from consuming too much sugar and saturated fats. Lastly, the WHO recommends to refrain from smoking.
Read more studies on diabetes, its treatment, and prevention at DiabetesScienceNews.com.