At the 90th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, held in San Francisco June 15 to 18, 2008, research conducted at Columbia University Medical Center was presented which showed a protective effect for curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, against the development of diabetes in two mouse models of diabetes and obesity. The research is scheduled for publication in the journal Endocrinology.
For their study, Drew Tortoriello, MD, who is an endocrinologist and researcher at Columbia’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, in collaboration with Stuart Weisberg, MD, PhD, and Rudolph Leibel, MD, used male mice fed high fat diets to induce obesity and genetically obese female leptin-deficient mice. Normal, lean mice fed low fat diets were used as controls. The animals were divided to receive diets containing a high dose of a curcumin extract or no curcumin for five weeks.
Mice given high doses of curcumin showed less susceptibility to the development of diabetes, based on blood glucose levels, and glucose and insulin tolerance test results. The animals additionally experienced a small reduction in body fat and weight, even when calorie intake was the same or higher than mice that did not receive curcumin. Obese mice that received curcumin also had less inflammation in liver and fatty tissue compared with animals that did not receive the compound.
Inflammation is believed to play a role in the onset of diabetes type 2 as well as obesity. The researchers suggest that curcumin helps prevent diabetes by reducing the inflammation that occurs in obesity. By suppressing the number and activity of inflammatory cytokines produced by immune cells in fatty tissue, which can damage the heart and insulin-producing pancreatic islands as well as increase muscle and liver insulin resistance, curcumin may help reduce some of obesity’s adverse effects.
"It's too early to tell whether increasing dietary curcumin intake in obese people with diabetes will show a similar benefit," Dr. Tortoriello stated. "Although the daily intake of curcumin one might have to consume as a primary diabetes treatment is likely impractical, it is entirely possible that lower dosages of curcumin could nicely complement our traditional therapies as a natural and safe treatment."
Recent advances in dietary science have highlighted the crucial role of insulin in weight gain. Produced in the pancreas, insulin is a critical hormone for the control of blood sugar (glucose). Its job is to transport glucose into cells, where the glucose is burned as fuel. While this process is necessary for life, abnormalities in the insulin-glucose system caused by aging, lack of exercise and poor diet can cause major health problems. In aging, cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin. As cells become increasingly insulin resistant, the body compensates by increasing the number of insulin receptors on cells and secreting more insulin in an attempt to drive more blood sugar into muscle and liver cells (Fulop 2003).
Insulin resistance is a dangerous condition. Research suggests that adipose tissue (fat) is a source of pro-inflammatory chemicals that have a role in the development of insulin resistance (Sharma AM et al 2005). Insulin resistance is associated with obesity (in particular, abdominal obesity) (Greenfield JR et al. 2004). It is also associated with aging muscle (Nair KS 2005), physical inactivity, and genetics.
This increase in insulin (called hyperinsulinemia) and decreased insulin sensitivity have a number of harmful effects, including contributing to diseases associated with being overweight (Zeman et al 2005; Garveyet al 1998). Over time, high insulin and insulin resistance may lead to type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals, a major risk factor for heart disease. A study sponsored by the NIH showed that over a 10-year period, hyperinsulinemia was associated with increased all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, independent of other risk factors (NIH 1985).
Controlling insulin levels as we age is essential for overall health, longevity, and weight management. An increasing number of physicians recognize the role of insulin resistance in the current obesity epidemic. The good news is that nonprescription drugs and low-cost dietary supplements that have demonstrated beneficial effects upon insulin action are already available.
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