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Compounds from cocoa combat diabetes

By cwan | August 15th, 2018

We have seen many health benefits of dark chocolate. For example, scientists have found out that dark chocolate can help feed the good bacteria in our gut to produce anti-inflammatory compounds; that the flavonols found in chocolate could ward off age-related memory decline; and that higher consumption of the treat has been linked to lower body fat levels. It has even been shown that dark chocolate plays a role in reducing diabetes as well as reducing cardiovascular disease and lowering the risk of stroke.

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) just gave us one more reason to munch on dark chocolate — epicatechin monomers, a component in cocoa, could help fight type-2 diabetes by pushing certain cells to become insulin powerhouses.  Specifically, BYU researchers discovered that epicatechin monomers can increase the ability of beta cells to secrete insulin.

Inside the pancreas are regions where the body’s beta cells reside. When there is a spike in glucose, beta cells are responsible for secreting insulin directly into the bloodstream reducing glucose level. Beta cells also secrete a hormone called Amylin, which puts the brakes on the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream. In type-2 diabetics, however, the beta cells malfunction and are not able to do their jobs effectively.

In the BYU study, researchers placed mice on a high-fat diet. Then they gave the animals the cocoa compound. They found that the epicatechin monomers not only helped the rodents better deal with elevated blood glucose levels, but also decreased the extent of their obesity. Further investigation revealed that the increased insulin secretion in the presence of monomeric catechin corresponded with enhanced mitochondrial respiration, which suggests that the cocoa compounds improves the fuel utilization inside the β-cell.

Mitochondria are specialized structures inside cells that convert oxygen and nutrients into ATP, a small molecule used to transfer energy throughout the body.  What seem to be happening is that the cocoa compounds protected the beta cells by increasing their ability to deal with oxidative stress.  Essentially, epicatechin monomers are making the mitochondria in the beta cells stronger, which produces more ATP, which then results in more insulin being released.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Connie Wan

Journal Reference: Rowley T.J.; Bitner, B.F. et al. Monomeric cocoa catechins enhance beta-cell function by increasing mitochondrial respiration, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 49, pp. 30-41, November 2017