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Cocoa Protects From Diabetes, Says Science

S u m m a r y :
Cocoa compounds are shown to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, says a new study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. The researchers are now looking forward to harvesting these ingredients to treat diabetics.

Chocolate, A Cure?

Chocolate has been hailed as a healthy food thanks to an increasing body of research focusing on cocoa compounds. Of course, this only applies to pure cocoa, and not to processed versions thereof. A new study, conducted by a team of scientists from Brigham Young University (BYU), adds to the bulk of evidence that shines a new light on chocolate: according to its findings, the consumption of cocoa might help prevent and treat diabetes, a metabolic disorder characterised by abnormally high blood sugar levels that result from the body’s decreased ability at secreting hormone insulin.

Magical Cocoa Compounds

The magical ingredients in chocolate are certain compounds making up cocoa. They appear to be giving the human body a boost in its release of insulin, and thus to its response to elevated blood glucose levels. Study author Jeffery Tessem from BYU explains that one would probably have to consume a lot of cocoa to get the desirable effect, but also that this should not go hand in hand with too much sugar because it is only the compounds in cocoa that are needed.

These compounds are known as epicatechin monomers, and they are naturally found in cocoa. According to the research, they help insulin-producing cells (known as beta cells which are found in the pancreas) to function better; on the other hand, when a person is affected by diabetes, these cells fail to produce insulin, resulting in the body being unable to keep glucose levels in check.

More Cocoa, More Energy, More Insulin

Tessem and his colleagues reached these conclusions after they studied animals fed with the cocoa compounds. These ‘subjects’ were already on a high-fat diet, and with the addition of the cocoa, their obesity level decreased while their ability to manage increased blood sugar levels was boosted. Upon investigating this link at the cellular level, the researchers found that the compounds would make the mitochondria (the energy-producing organelles) of beta cells stronger such that more energy was being produced, leading to an enhanced ability of the beta cells to secrete insulin.

“These results will help us get closer to using these compounds more effectively in foods or supplements to maintain normal blood glucose control and potentially even delay or prevent the onset of type-2 diabetes,” says co-author Andrew Neilson.

Cocoa But Not Sugar

The team does caution the public though: one should not go for chocolate bars with high sugar content to derive this benefit. Meanwhile, the researchers are working on ways to mine the cocoa compounds to make them suitable for use as a treatment for diabetics.

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