Chocolate could help prevent type 2 diabetes, study shows

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A new study published in Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry has shown that compounds in cocoa may help delay onset of type 2 diabetes.

BYU researchers say that the compounds they discovered in cocoa could help our body release more insulin and respond to increased blood glucose better. Insulin is the hormone that manages glucose, the blood sugar that reaches unhealthy levels in diabetes.

While the findings of the study are positive, it doesn’t mean that you can eat lots of cocoa and prevent yourself from suffering from type 2 diabetes. It is the compound that you need and that’s only possible through further research and products created based on that research.

Bodies of diabetes patients either doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t process blood sugar properly. Scientists point out that the root cause of diabetes is failure of beta cells. The study indicates that for beta cells to work better and remain stronger, increased presence of epicatechin monomers, compounds found naturally in cocoa play a great role.

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers first fed the cocoa compound to animals on a high-fat diet. They found that by adding it to the high-fat diet, the compound would decrease the level of obesity in the animals and would increase their ability to deal with increased blood glucose levels.

Researchers then dove in and dissected what was happening on the cellular level — specifically, the beta cell level. That’s when they learned cocoa compounds named epicatechin monomers enhanced beta cells’ ability to secrete insulin. The team found that the monomers are protecting the cells and increases ability of these cells to deal with oxidative stress.

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, researchers note.

While there has been a lot of research on similar compounds over the past decade, no one has been able to pinpoint which ones are the most beneficial or how exactly they bring about any benefit — until now. This research shows the epicatechin monomers, the smallest of the compounds, are the most effective.

“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,” said study co-author Andrew Neilson, assistant professor of food science at Virginia Tech.

But rather than stocking up on the sugar-rich chocolate bars at the checkout line, researchers believe the starting point is to look for ways to take the compound out of cocoa, make more of it and then use it as a potential treatment for current diabetes patients.

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