Compound in Chocolate May Prevent, Treat Diabetes

A cocoa-derived compound improved the function of beta cells in diabetes patients.

It is generally recommended that patients with type 2 diabetes limit their intake of sweets to prevent unstable blood glucose levels. However, new findings from a study published by the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicate that a compound found in chocolate may actually prevent or treat diabetes.

The study authors found that the cocoa compound may help the body release insulin and control blood glucose levels, but caution that it would likely take a significant amount of cocoa to reap the benefits of the compound.

“You probably have to eat a lot of cocoa, and you probably don’t want it to have a lot of sugar in it,” said study author Jeffery Tessem, PhD. “It’s the compound in cocoa you’re after.”

In type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or process blood glucose properly due to faulty beta cells.

The authors found that beta cells worked better and were stronger with an increased presence of epicatchin monomers, which are found in cocoa.

In the study, the authors fed the compound to mice eating a high-fat diet and found that the compound reduced obesity and increased their ability to respond to blood glucose levels.

The investigators then looked closely at what was happening on a cellular level. They discovered that epicatechin monomers were able to improve the beta cells’ ability to secrete insulin, according to the study.

“What happens is it's protecting the cells, it's increasing their ability to deal with oxidative stress,” Dr Tessem said. “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.”

Although similar research exists, no previous studies have pinpointed which compounds were beneficial and how they deliver the benefit, according to the authors. These findings suggest that epicatechin monomers may be an effective way to treat diabetes.

However, the authors do not suggest that patients consume large quantities of chocolate to reap the benefits of epicatechin monomers, according to the study.

The investigators report that future studies should explore methods of extracting the compound from cocoa and using it to treat patients with 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,” said study co-author Andrew Neilson, PhD.