A new study by boffins in China has given new hope to diabetics by finding that compounds in pumpkin could potentially replace or at least drastically reduce the daily insulin injections.
Researchers led by Tao Xia of the East China Normal University, found that diabetic rats fed the extract had only 5percent less plasma insulin and 8 per cent fewer insulin-positive (beta) cells compared to normal healthy rats.
Xia now says that the pumpkin extract is a potential treatment for pre-diabetics as well as diabetics that could help drastically reduce the amount of insulin they need to take. “Pumpkin extract is potentially a very good product for pre-diabetic persons, as well as those who have already developed diabetes,” he said.
David Bender, sub-dean at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, called the findings ‘very exciting’ but insisted that tests needed to be carried out first on humans before reaching any conclusions.
“This research is very exciting… the main finding is that feeding pumpkin extract prevents the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta-cells, but it is impossible to say whether pumpkin extract would promote regeneration in humans. I think the exciting thing is that this may be a source of a medication that could be taken by mouth,” he said.
The protective effect of pumpkin is thought to be due to both antioxidants and D-chiro-inositol, a molecule that mediates insulin activity.
Boosting insulin levels has the effect of lowering blood sugar levels, which reduces levels of oxidative oxygen species that damage beta-cell membranes, preventing further damage and allowing for some regeneration.
Beta cells levels in the diabetic rats are, however, unlikely ever to reach that of controls, because some of the cells will have been damaged beyond repair.
The rats used in this study represent type I diabetes, but the researchers believe the pumpkin extract may also play a role in type II diabetes. The findings of the study are published in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI.