Researchers found that a compound found in broccoli sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables led to a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose levels among obese adults with type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, the compound, which is called sulforaphane, was found to reduce the amount of glucose produced by cultured liver cells, and it also appeared to reverse abnormal gene expression in the livers of rats.
The study – conducted by Annika Axelsson, of the Lund University Diabetes Center in Sweden, and colleagues – was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The condition arises when the body is unable to use the hormone insulin effectively, causing blood glucose levels to become too high. Unless blood glucose levels are controlled, type 2 diabetes can cause a number of severe complications, including heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney failure.
While there are medications, such as metformin, that can help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels, Axelsson and team note that some patients are unable to use them due to their severe side effects, which include kidney damage.
As such, there is a need for safer alternatives. Could sulforaphane meet this need?
To answer this question, Axelsson and colleagues created a genetic signature for type 2 diabetes, based on 50 genes associated with the condition.
The researchers then applied this signature to public gene expression data. This allowed them to assess the effects of more than 3,800 compounds on gene expression changes in liver cells that are associated with type 2 diabetes.
The team found that sulforaphane – a chemical compound present in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli sprouts, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and watercress – demonstrated the strongest effects.
When applied to cultured liver cells, sulforaphane reduced the production of glucose. When the compound was administered to rats with type 2 diabetes, the chemical compound led to improvements in liver gene expression, shifting it to a healthier state.
Next, the researchers tested broccoli sprout extract on 97 obese adults in a 12-week, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. All adults had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and had poor control of their blood glucose levels.
Compared with adults who did not consume the broccoli sprout extract, those who did consume the extract showed a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels.
While further research is needed to confirm whether sulforaphane might benefit patients with type 2 diabetes, this study certainly shows promise.
Axelsson and colleagues conclude that creating genetic signatures in order to analyze public gene expression data may be an effective way to identify compounds that could help to treat diabetes and other diseases.
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