A new study has found that broccoli could potentially help obese people with type 2 diabetes. According to the researchers, broccoli contains a compound that could slow down or even reverse the disease.

Scientists used experimental and computational research to study a network of 50 genes that cause symptoms often associated with type 2 diabetes. The researchers successfully located a compound called sulforaphane -found naturally in vegetables like broccoli, cabbages and Brussels sprouts- which could turn down the expression of those genes.

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Image credit: www.food.com

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, which reduces type 2 diabetes symptoms

On the new study, the researchers gave sulforaphane to obese patients with type 2 diabetes, in the form of concentrated broccoli sprout extract. The scientists found that sulforaphane improved the patients’ systems’ abilities to control their glucose levels and it reduced their glucose production, which are two symptoms of diabetes that can lead to other serious health problems, such as coronary artery disease, nerve damage or blindness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Broccoli, Diabetes
Patients with type 2 diabetes are almost always advised to change their diet in order to help control their blood sugar levels. Image credit: Barmac.

“It’s very exciting and opens up new possibilities for the treatment of type 2 diabetes,” said Anders Rosengren, an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and it affects over 300 million people around the world. For people with type 2 diabetes that are also obese, the excess fat in the liver causes the body to be less sensitive to the hormone insulin, which makes it very difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar levels. Normally, insulin –which is produced by the pancreas-, causes the liver to take glucose out of the bloodstream and keep it for later use.

“Lifestyle changes are at the core of type 2 diabetes treatment but often need to be complemented with drugs,” said Rosengren.

Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes but isn’t fit for every patient

Nowadays, the most common treatment option for type 2 diabetes is the drug metformin. However, not every person who needs the drug can take it, as around 15 percent of type 2 diabetes patients have reduced kidney function and taking the drug can increase their risk for lactic acidosis, which is an unhealthy build-up of lactic acid that can cause abdominal discomfort, muscle pain, cramping, shallow breathing, and tiredness.

One of the team’s objectives was also to find an alternative to metformin, which causes discomfort in many patients. Rosengren told Live Science that there was also a general frustration in the clinical community because research labs were having a hard time developing new anti-diabetic compounds.

Broccoli, Diabetes
Research has also found that about 30 percent of type 2 diabetes patients who take metformin develop nausea, bloating and abdominal pain. Image credit: iStock.

Another challenge the scientists faced was that traditionally, researchers looking to develop new drugs often studied single genes or individual proteins. However, diabetes is much more complicated than that, as it involves a huge network of genes. In light of that, the researchers had to find a new, systematic approach that required them taking a holistic view of the disease.

Sulforaphane reduced blood glucose levels by 10 percent

Annika Axelsson, the study’s leader and a doctoral student at Gothenburg, and her research team began by analyzing liver tissue from diabetic mice that had been raised on a “Western diet”, a diet containing 42 percent fat and 0.15 percent cholesterol. The scientists conducted several tests and they were able to identify 1,720 genes associated with hyperglycemia, a condition characterized by an excessive amount of glucose in the blood.

The researchers performed even more tests and narrowed the 1,720 genes to a network of 50 linked genes that together resulted in high blood glucose levels. They identified this network as the so-called disease signature for type 2 diabetes.

Afterwards, the team used a database of existing drug compounds and used a mathematical modeling program to rank the compounds for their potential ability to reverse the disease signature. Meaning, to turn down those overexpressed genes. When they conducted that experiment they found that sulforaphane had the highest ranking.

When they found that, they ran several tests to see if the compound could in fact lower glucose levels in living systems. They tested sulforaphane in cells growing in lab dishes, and noticed that it inhibited glucose production. Next, they tested the compound in rodents, and found that sulforaphane improved glucose tolerance in animals on a high-fat or fructose diet.

Then, the scientists tested the compound in people. In a time period of 12 weeks, 97 participants with type 2 diabetes took a dose of concentrated broccoli extract in powdered form each day. The dose was over 100 times the amount found naturally in the vegetable. The findings showed that for participants who were not obese, the sulforaphane did not have any effect.

However, for those participants who were obese, the results were significant. Usually, for people with that type of diabetes, glucose levels in the blood stay high, even if they are fasting. But sulforaphane reduced fasting blood glucose levels in obese patients by 10 percent compared to the participants in the study who took a placebo. That amount, although it may seem low, is enough to lower a patient’s risk of developing health complications. Plus, the sulforaphane did not cause gastrointestinal problems, which metformin does cause, or other side effects.

Source: Live Science