Specific compounds within cocoa foster the release of insulin and help protect against the onset of type-2 diabetes (T2D), reports a new study in Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
Chocolate was consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its possible health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate that contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and also have possible anti inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties.
Based on UC Davis, 100 grams of cocoa include 26.2 mg of epicatechin. A similar amount of dark chocolate contains 12 mg of catechin and 41.5 mg of epicatechin, whereas 100 grams of milk chocolate comprise 2.1 mg of catechin and 6.3 mg of epicatechin.
Adequate insulin creation and security of beta islet cells in the pancreas are equally recognised to be important in the prevention of T2D.
Monomeric cocoa catechins have been found to stimulate insulin production in the pancreatic beta cells of rats. Additionally, these chemicals, also called flavanols, helped shield against death of those cells when subjected to high levels of fat, also found that the team headed by researchers from Brigham Young University (BYU), Utah.
The catechins exerted their impact by raising mitochondrial respiration in cells, which then raises the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — the molecule that transports energy within cells.
“What happens is it is protecting the cells, it is raising their ability to deal with oxidative stress,” explained lead researcher, Professor Jeffery Tessem from BYU. “The epicatechin monomers are making the mitochondria in the beta cells stronger, which produces more ATP (a cell’s energy supply), which then contributes to more insulin being released.”
The findings may have programs in the struggle against the growing epidemic of T2D.
“These results can help us get nearer to using these chemicals more efficiently in supplements or foods to maintain normal blood glucose control and possibly even delay or prevent the onset of type-2 diabetes,” said study co-author Professor Andrew Neilson, by Virginia Tech.
The researchers found that only the smaller molecules in cocoa extract — ‘monomeric’ catechins had the consequence of increasing insulin production. The larger ‘oligomeric’ and ‘polymeric’ procyanidins and the entire cocoa extract actually slightly decreased insulin production.
Previous research has shown that the catechin monomer portion of cocoa extract has the highest bioavailability when taken orally. Combined with the findings from this study the monomeric flavanols would be the most bioactive compounds, “suggests great potential for translation from in vitro cell culture to in vivo efficacy in animals and humans,” wrote the investigators.
Though the larger molecules’ (that the oligomeric and polymeric procyanidins) influence on beta cell function is neutral or slightly negative, some animal studies have indicated these fractions of this cocoa extract may be metabolised by bowel bacteria to bioavailable compounds.
Further studies are ongoing to investigate the impact of these larger cocoa flavanols in vivo.
Unfortunately, the beneficial impact on insulin production is very likely to be obtained only from cocoa extract rather than out of eating chocolate bars, warning the researchers.
“You probably have to eat a whole lot of cocoa, and you probably don’t need it to have a lot of sugar in it,” explained Tessem. “It is the chemical in cocoa you’re following.”
Therefore, the next step will be to examine ways of extracting the monomeric catechins out of cocoa, enhancing the quantity produced and then investigate its possible use as a cure for diabetes patients, suggested the researchers.