Tea could turn out to be the diabetic's best friend, according to US Department of Agriculture scientists. They have found that green, black, and oolong teas can boost the activity of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
Tea drinkers of the world will tell you of the delights of a nice cuppa. But medical scientists have over the past few years revealed how tea has many health benefits, too, because of the presence of some aromatic chemicals known as polyphenols. Polyphenols are thought to be the active ingredients, giving tea its protective effects against damaging free radicals found in the body. Polyphenols can even kill bacteria, some viruses, and cancer cells, at least in the laboratory, although there is evidence of a reduced risk of these diseases in tea drinkers.
Now, a new analytical approach developed by food chemists Richard Anderson and Marilyn Polansky at the USDA's human nutrition research center has infused the scientific literature with another benefit of the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Anderson and his colleagues have been looking for a natural way to keep blood sugar levels steady in diabetic patients for more than a decade. If they are successful, their results could reduce a patient's reliance on injected insulin. They looked at many different plants and spices for an effect on insulin activity, but recently turned to tea.
The scientists extracted all the components that showed any effect on insulin and discovered that just one natural chemical, known as epigallocatechin gallate, is almost wholly responsible for the effect. This compound, a polyphenol, has also been shown to work as an antioxidant.
"The lack of control of blood sugar leading to glucose intolerance and ultimately diabetes is one of the leading causes of poor health," says Anderson. "The incidence of diabetes is expected to double in the next two to three decades." He and Polansky have now discovered that tea increases insulin activity by more than 20 times in laboratory tests. "Tea is likely to improve the body's ability to respond to insulin, leading to lower levels of insulin and blood sugar," he said.
Further studies are required to demonstrate whether tea can help the millions of people with glucose intolerance or diabetes. Interestingly, although many types of tea can affect insulin activity, none of the herbal varieties has any effect. "Herbal teas are not teas in the traditional sense since they do not contain leaves of Camellia sinensis," explains Anderson. In independent research, Kuttan Ramadasan and colleagues at the Amala Cancer Research Centre, in Kerala, India, also demonstrated that polyphenols found in unfermented green tea could increase sugar tolerance in the laboratory.
The USDA researchers point out that adding milk reduces the effect by a third, while non-dairy creamers also have a negative effect. But anyone hoping to benefit from the best drink of the day should stick to a plain scone and go easy on the jam.
Anderson and colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Tea could really be the best drink of the day
Source: Diabetes News: Europe Intelligence Wire.
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