According to researchers from Brigham Young University, cocoa contains compounds called epicatechin monomers that can help the body release more insulin, the hormone that manages glucose, which reaches unhealthy levels in diabetes. According to the new research published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, these compounds also improve the body’s responses to increased blood glucose. Epicatechin monomers work, in part, by making beta cells—which are malfunctioning in diabetes—stronger and more productive.
Study collaborators at Virginia Tech fed the compound to animals on a high-fat diet, finding that it lowered the level of obesity and increased their ability to handle increased blood glucose levels. Next, the BYU researchers figured out what was happening on a cellular level with a focus on beta cells.
“What happens is it’s protecting the cells—it’s increasing their ability to deal with oxidative stress,” says study author Jeffery Tessem, assistant professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science at BYU, as reported on ScienceDaily. “The epicatechin monomers are making the mitochondria in the beta cells stronger, which produces more ATP (a cell’s energy source), which then results in more insulin being released.”
This study, which was funded in part by grants from the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation and the American Diabetes Association, is the first to actually pinpoint the most effective compounds for preventing and/or treating diabetes. “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 study co-author Andrew Neilson, assistant professor of food science at Virginia Tech.
Before you start stocking up on your favorite chocolate treats (even healthy chocolate bars), you should know that there’s a “but”—and it’s a pretty big one. While the compounds in cocoa can help people with diabetes, any added sugar is bad idea. That means sugar-free chocolate, or unsweetened cocoa, is the chocolate fix you’re going to want to try.
Researchers believe the next step is to work out how to take the compound out of cocoa, multiply it, and use it as a potential treatment for people with diabetes.
Could this scientific breakthrough be a miracle cure for type 1 diabetes?