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This Popular European Berry Could Be A Treatment for Diabetes

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Blackcurrant berries help control blood sugar levels.

Here’s the latest on a popular European berry that could be a treatment for diabetics—possibly even with some added sugar!

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Diabetes and Sugar

Treating diabetes is primarily achieved through medications and controlling diet. Recently, however, new research proposes that patients with type 2 diabetes may benefit more through bariatric surgery as opposed to losing weight through dieting and exercise.

Weight Loss and When Your Doctor Tells You That You Have Type 2 Diabetes

However, weight loss surgery is not for everyone and in some cases it can be detrimental and leave a patient in worse health than they were before the surgery.

Will You Be Happy After Weight Loss Surgery?

According to the American Diabetes Association, any sugar levels higher than normal are unhealthy and roughly 86 million people in the U.S. have this condition. The health risk of elevated blood sugar levels is that it can lead to diabetes. In fact, your doctor will typically diagnose you as having “prediabetes” when your blood sugar levels measure slightly higher than normal after a blood test.

Sugar is often described as a slow poison. This is not to say sugar is necessarily bad—your cells actually need it to survive-—however, it’s when too much sugar accumulates in your blood that you are headed for trouble.

High blood sugar can slowly erode the ability of cells in your pancreas to make insulin. When this happens, the pancreas overcompensates and insulin levels stay too high. Over time, the pancreas becomes permanently damaged.

Not only will high blood sugar damage your pancreas, but it will also lead to cardiovascular disease where atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries—will lead to heart failure.

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The American Diabetes Association warns that other parts of the body can be harmed by high blood glucose levels that includes:

• Kidney disease or kidney failure, requiring dialysis
• Strokes
• Vision loss or blindness
• Weakened immune system, with a greater risk of infections
• Erectile dysfunction
• Nerve damage, also called neuropathy, that causes tingling, pain, or less sensation in your feet, legs, and hands
• Poor circulation to the legs and feet
• Slow wound-healing and the potential for amputation in rare cases

Therefore, it is paramount for good health to control our blood sugar levels. And, how those levels are determined is with a blood glucose test both after an 8-12 hour fast, and postprandially (after a meal or a glucose tolerance sugary drink).

For a non-diabetic, acceptable blood glucose levels after a fast are those below 126 mg/dL. After a fast, a physician might have you take an oral glucose test where you will drink a sugary beverage after your fast and have measured your blood glucose levels to see how well your pancreas is responding with insulin release. If your blood glucose level is higher than 200, then you are diagnosed as having diabetes.

Once diagnosed as having diabetes, the work begins toward controlling your blood insulin levels—especially following your meals. Which is why adopting a special diet is the first line of defense in controlling your diabetes. And as it turns out, some foods are better at controlling your blood sugar and insulin spikes after a meal.

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Case in point: berries like blackcurrants.

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Blackcurrants (with Sugar) Study

A news release from the University of Eastern Finland reports the publication of a new study that indicates blackcurrants are especially effective—even with added to sugar to make its bitter taste more palatable.

Blackcurrants have previously been a candidate as a beneficial food toward controlling the blood glucose response after a meal. In particular, toward reducing insulin spikes after a meal. These blackcurrant berry spike reducing abilities are typically associated with its berry-derived polyphenolic compounds, anthocyanins, which are especially rich in blackcurrants.

One of the questions about blackcurrants is just how much is needed for blood glucose control. An important question because blackcurrants are naturally sour and are made more palatable by adding sugar. But sugar is what we want to control!

Crazy as it may sound, researchers found that adding sugar to blackcurrants still allowed blackcurrant berries to effect a beneficial blood-sugar control response in healthy participants.

According to the news release:

“…26 healthy participants (22 female, 4 male) consumed three different test products and sugar water as a control product at four separate study visits. The test products were a blackcurrant purée with added sugar, a blackcurrant product containing fermented quinoa, and a blackcurrant product base without blackcurrants. Each of them and the control product contained 31 g of available carbohydrates and had a similar composition of sugar components. Blood samples were taken before the meals in fasting state and postprandially in 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 and 180 minutes after consuming the meal, and analyzed for glucose, insulin, and free fatty acids.”

A Surprising Finding

What the researchers found was that when compared to a sugar water control, a lowered amount of blackcurrant formulations (75 grams as opposed to the originally studied 150 grams of blackcurrant product) resulted in reduced glucose and insulin concentrations during the first 30 minutes, a more balanced decline during the first hour (reduced sugar/insulin spike), and an improved glycemic profile. In fact, 75 grams of blackcurrant in a sample containing fermented quinoa worked best.

In addition, not only did the results show that smaller doses of blackcurrant berries can achieve blood glucose and insulin control, but that the added sugar for flavor did not seem to significantly interfere with beneficial properties of blackcurrant berries. In other words, the study appears to show that sugar consumed with blackcurrants is not as unhealthy as sugar consumed without berries.

The take home message is that blackcurrants are gaining acceptance as a useful food toward controlling blood sugar levels and the insulin response following a meal. Seventy-five grams of blackcurrants appears to show efficacy, and adding some sugar to the berries appears to at least be healthier than eating sugar alone.

However, this does not indicate that it is ok for diabetic patients to begin heaping sugar on blackcurrant berries. Only that the efficacy of blackcurrants toward blood sugar control and the oddity of added sugar not cancelling out the blood-sugar-insulin response, opens the door to future development of blackcurrant food products as a potentially tasty dietary option for those with diabetes.

For more about diabetes control, here is an informative piece about weight loss from a type 2 diabetes combination drug treatment.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Photorama from Pixabay

References:

Blackcurrants are favorable for glucose metabolism” University of Eastern Finland new release 2 Dec. 2020.

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) lowers sugar-induced postprandial glycaemia independently and in a product with fermented quinoa: a randomized crossover trial” Lappi, J., Raninen, K., Väkeväinen, K., Kårlund, A., Törrönen, R., & Kolehmainen, M. British Journal of Nutrition, 1-28. Dec. 2020

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