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Pumpkin Component May Protect Against Diabetes

O.K. I just have to say it — pumpkins rock! They are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin A, are a good source of antioxidants, and now, they may contain an compound that helps protect against diabetes.

Researchers in China found that an extract from pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia) promoted the regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells in diabetic rats, boosting levels of insulin-producing beta cells and insulin in the blood.

The rats used in this study, conducted by scientists from the East China Normal University, modeled type-1 diabetes, but the researchers believe the pumpkin extract may also play a role in type-2 diabetes. It is also their hope that the research can be reproduced in humans.

Type-1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune response that damages the cells in the pancreas, causing a reduced amount of insulin. Insulin is important for the regulation of blood sugar levels.

The scientists who conducted the study, Tao Xia and Qin Wang, divided 12 diabetic rats and 12 normal rats into two groups: for 30 days, one group was fed a normal diet, and the other was fed the normal diet plus the pumpkin extract.

At the end of the study, the researchers reported that diabetic rats fed the extract had only 5 percent less plasma insulin and 9 percent fewer insulin-positive (beta) cells compared to normal healthy rats.

“Pumpkin extract is potentially a very good product for pre-diabetic persons,” lead author Tao Xia from told Chemistry & Industry magazine, “as well as those who have already developed diabetes.”

The researchers believe that the potential benefits of the pumpkin extract are due to both antioxidants and D-chiro-inositol, a molecule that mediates insulin activity. Although helpful in reducing the damage of the beta cells, the researchers note that those cells damaged beyond repair will not be helped by the extract.

“The main finding is that feeding pumpkin extract prevents the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta cells,” David Bender from Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, told Chemistry & Industry magazine.

Bender, who is not affiliated with the research, added that is was too early to promote pumpkin as a prevention or treatment for diabetes. Until large-scale human trials are conducted, it is impossible to know whether or not pumpkin extract could have the same effects in humans.

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