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Study Finds New Hope: Broccoli Extract Could Treat Type 2 Diabetes

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture
broccoli and type 2 diabetes treatment

Diabetes is an ever-growing health crisis. Worldwide, over 300 million people suffer from Type 2 (formerly called “adult onset”) diabetes, and those numbers continue to rise. Researchers in Sweden have identified a compound in your mom’s favorite crunchy green vegetable that may change how we treat diabetes.


What causes type 2 diabetes?
While there are many risk factors for diabetes, including family history and lifestyle, although there is still much work to be done to determine the exact cause. Diabetes type 2 generally begins as the body tissues develop insulin resistance—decreased sensitivity to the insulin produced by the pancreas. People with insulin resistance will require their pancreas to excrete more and more insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels.

Over time, the pancreas becomes less and less able to keep up with the demand, and as blood sugar levels creep higher and higher, the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas become damaged, and unfortunately, this cycle continues, until the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin at all.

The first line of type 2 diabetes treatment for most patients is the prescription drug, Metformin, which works to improve the sensitivity of the body’s tissues to insulin, lowering blood sugar levels, and protecting the pancreas and other body tissues from damage.

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However, approximately 15% of people who live with diabetes are unable to take Metformin because they have decreased kidney function and the drug can increase their risk of lactic acidosis. In addition, many people are unable to tolerate the gastrointestinal discomfort that is almost universally a side effect of Metformin therapy.

How broccoli extract could help treat type 2 diabetes
It is thought that diabetes type 2 often develops as a result of several genetic factors, working together, that cause the endocrine system to malfunction. Scientists in Sweden identified a network of 50 genes that cause the symptoms most often associated with type 2 diabetes. They then were able to successfully isolate a compound called sulforaphane, which is naturally found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage, and noted the ability of sulforaphane in animal studies to decrease the expression of those specific genes.

In a study published Wednesday by Science Transitional Medicine, researchers were able to concentrate this substance to a dosage of over 100 times the amount found naturally in food, and gave sulforaphane to obese patients with type 2 diabetes. The findings were quite significant, in that the patients’ own body systems were able to control their blood glucose levels, and the sulforaphane reduced their glucose production. In those patients who were obese, sulforaphane reduced fasting blood glucose levels by 10% compared to those who took a placebo, without the accompanying gastrointestinal problems. Sulforaphane interestingly had no such effect on diabetics who were not obese.

Researchers note that a 10% drop in fasting blood sugar is enough to significantly lower a patient’s risk of developing serious health complications such as nerve damage, blindness, and coronary artery disease.

Large scale studies are still pending, but this research is very promising for improved type 2 diabetes treatment. What does this mean at this point? Well, it looks like President George H. W. Bush was wrong… and your mother was right.