Compounds found in chocolate, red wine may lower Type 2 diabetes risk

Keep snacking on those berries and dark chocolate and sipping on red wine and tea: Consuming them may lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

A new study published
on Jan. 19 in the Journal of Nutrition shows that people who eat items
that contain certain groups of flavonoids, called flavones and anthocyanins, have
lower insulin resistance and can regulate their blood sugar better, possibly helping reduce their risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Flavonoids are plant-based organic compounds which have been linked to other health benefits as well. For example, one compound called flavonol works
an antioxidant and has been linked to better blood circulation. Flavonol may
also reduce blood pressure and may improve seniors’ memory. 

The compound flavones is most common in herbs and vegetables
like parsley, thyme and celery. Anthocyanins naturally occur in berries, red
grapes and red or blue-colored fruits and vegetables.

Researchers looked at almost 2,000 healthy women’s eating
habits. They were asked to complete questionnaires to see how much total flavonoids they consumed and how much of six different flavonoid compounds they ate.

They also gave blood samples so researchers could examine their glucose
regulation and inflammation levels, in addition to their insulin resistance

High insulin resistance is when the body creates insulin, a hormone
necessary to processes sugars in food called glucose, but does not use
it. This leads to glucose building up in the blood, or high blood sugar
levels. Inflammation, meanwhile, has been linked to increased risk of diabetes,
obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Subjects who consumed the most anthocyanins and
flavones had significantly lower rates of insulin resistance
compared to those who ate the least.

In addition, those who ate the most anthocyanins were the least likely to
have chronic inflammation. Those who consumed the most flavones were shown
to have higher levels of a protein called adiponectic that aids in regulating
metabolism, including the processing of glucose.

“This is one of the first large-scale human studies to
look at how these powerful bioactive compounds might reduce the risk of
diabetes,” author Aedin Cassidy, a professor of nutrition at the University of
East Anglia in Norwich, England, said in a press release. “Laboratory studies
have shown these types of foods might modulate blood glucose regulation —
affecting the risk of Type 2 diabetes. But until now little has been know about
how habitual intakes might affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation
and inflammation in humans.”

Cassidy pointed out they don’t know how much of each
compound people would have to eat in order to get the anti-Type 2 diabetes benefits.

The U.K.’s National Health Service pointed out that the way
the study was set up prevented the researchers from proving that flavonoids alone
lowered the risk for Type 2 diabetes. For example, women who eat more
flavonoids may have a healthier diet and lifestyle overall. Also, the study
looked at insulin resistance — which is a sign of diabetes — rather than an
actual Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

The NHS advised that people shouldn’t go to town drinking
more red wine than recommended or eating more chocolate that usual. Excessive
alcohol consumption can cause liver and heart disease, stroke and cancer, while chocolates that are high in fat and sugar can actually raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Still, the researchers believe that the study shows that
these flavonoid compounds can make a difference.

“This is an exciting finding
that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like
chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances,” co-author Tim
Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College, London, said in a
press release. “If we can start to identify and
separate these substances we can potentially improve healthy eating. There are
many reasons including genetics why people prefer certain foods so we should be
cautious until we test them properly in randomized trials and in people
developing early diabetes.”