How Broccoli Could Help Diabetics Control Their Blood Sugar

One of the most important things for people living with type 2 diabetes is controlling their blood sugar. Now, new research shows that taking a compound from the humble broccoli sprout could be a major help.

With obesity remaining a significant problem in the West and a rising issue in many parts of the world, associated diabetes rates have also increased. When people with a weight management problem do develop type 2 diabetes, controlling their health can be difficult. In order to manage their blood sugar, patients will need to make a number of lifestyle changes including eating a healthy diet and exercise to bring down their weight.

While this sounds relatively straightforward it can be very difficult, particularly if patients are struggling against life-long eating habits. Add in the fatigue and other problems that diabetes can cause, and we see how what might sound easy is anything but.

To that end, scientists have been looking at ways that medical science can intervene to better enable patients to control or even one day reverse their condition. The leading option for this at the moment is a drug called metformin which helps patients control their blood sugar levels, but it isn’t without its problems. A proportion of people who have type 2 diabetes will have reduced kidney function either as a result of their condition or from other overlapping illnesses. Metformin can increase the risk of those patients developing further kidney problems, so it’s not always a desirable option.

In an effort to find other candidates for blood sugar control, scientists have been researching various compounds that are indicated by how are genes behave and regulate our blood sugar. One compound that has been indicated through this research is sulforaphane. Cruciferous vegetables like sprouts, cabbage and broccoli are rich in this chemical, and in previous lab tests it has shown the potential for controlling blood sugar levels. It is widely available on the market as a dietary supplement but it’s critical to state that this marketed version is not the same dosage or refinement as scientists are now interested in.

Nevertheless, to test whether sulforaphane has real-world applications, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden created a new study where they gave a sample of 97 people with type 2 diabetes a daily pill of concentrated sulforaphane for a period of three months. Part of that sample were given a placebo as a means of comparison. All but three people on the trial were taking metformin already in order to control their blood glucose levels, so it is worth bearing that in mind.

The concentration of the pill meant that it was the equivalent of eating about 5kg of broccoli every day–so probably not something we can replicate in our kitchens. The critical question is though, did it work?

The answer appears to be yes, at least for some patients. Patients taking the sulforaphane pill saw an average reduction in blood glucose of around 10 percent over the placebo–but it was only effective for patients who had what is known as “dysregulated glucose secretion” where their baseline glucose levels were already high to start with.

Further investigation by the team allowed them discern that sulforaphane and the drug metformin actually go about reducing blood sugar in different ways. As such, the researchers believe that this kind of treatment would work best as a complimentary one to metformin and not necessarily a replacement, though they don’t rule it out as a possible candidate for when patients cannot use metformin. One pleasing thing was they saw none of the side-effects that metformin can cause, further showing that while the reduction might be modest, it’s impact could be significant for patients who are struggling with metformin but need to lower their heart disease risk.

Again, there are broccoli extracts already on the market, but the researchers have been keen to stress that people should not be taking them and self-medicating for the same result observed in this trial because, they simply won’t get it.

“The way that you produce and process the extract is important to keep the sulforaphane intact,” senior researcher Dr. Anders Rosengren is quoted as saying. “At this point, we cannot recommend that anyone take the currently available extracts on the market to treat type 2 diabetes.”

It’s worth pointing out that, while this research is built on a trail of lab research and so for that reason appears sound in its reasoning, the actual patient trial was only relatively small. Therefore whether this promising start will translate into a meaningful intervention remains to be seen as a lot of drugs can show initial promise only for their clinical worth to disappear under wider testing. Nevertheless, the researchers are confident that further testing is warranted.

A major inquiry for the future, then, is whether sulforaphane could help people who are in the “pre-diabetic” danger phase actually reverse their course and stay on the healthy side of that line. A sulforaphane therapy targeted at this group of people could be particularly valuable. This therapy would be a major asset to preventing type 2 diabetes before the disease is in full bloom, staving off the kidney, liver, eyesight complications, etc. that can result from the condition. So, this is research for the community to keep an eye on.

In the meantime, adding broccoli to our diets won’t directly fight diabetes but there are plenty of reasons to include it as part of our healthy lifestyles, so let’s get munching.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

79 comments

Margie F
Margie F3 months ago

Another reason to eat broccoli

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S3 months ago

thank you for the good article

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Maureen G
Maureen G3 months ago

Always good to hear about scientific research that has possibilities to be helpful to so many people.

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S3 months ago

thank you for the good article

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heather g
heather g3 months ago

I have broccoli almost every day, or other cruciferous vegetables.

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S3 months ago

thank you for the good article

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S3 months ago

thank you for the good article

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Philippa P
Philippa P3 months ago

Eating more broccoli can never hurt. Love the stuff!

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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ERIKA S
ERIKA S3 months ago

thank you for the good article

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