Published on 19 May 2016

Researchers have discovered that combining compounds found in red grapes and oranges could be used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Healthy proteins found in the healthy fruits are created in the body that can reduce the damage caused by harmful sugars – too much of which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

University of Warwick researchers believe their findings could help improve the health of people with type 2 diabetes and related health conditions including obesity and heart disease, and hope that their discovery will be developed to provide a treatment for patients.

Professor Paul Thornalley, Professor in Systems Biology at Warwick Medical School, who led research recently published in Diabetes, said: “This is an incredibly exciting development and could have a massive impact on our ability to treat these health conditions. As well as helping to treat type 2 diabetes and heart disease it could defuse the obesity time bomb.”

The research team studied two compounds found in fruits but not usually found together. The compounds are trans-resveratrol (tRES) – found in red grapes, and hesperetin (HESP) – found in oranges. When combined at pharmaceutical doses the compounds acted in tandem to decrease blood glucose - improving the action of insulin and the health of arteries.

The compounds act by increasing the enzyme glyoxalase 1 into the body which helps to stop the damaging effects of a sugar-based compound called methylglyoxal.

Too much methylglyoxal when combined with a high energy diet intake is one of the main causes of insulin resistance that can lead to people developing type 2 diabetes, and also damages blood vessels and harms how the body handles the cholesterol that is linked with increased risk of heart conditions.

By blocking methylglyoxal researchers noted improvements in the health of overweight and obese people and believe this could help people with type 2 diabetes and those at high risk of heart disease in the future. Previous research has already indicated that blocking methylglyoxal can improve the health of people who are obese and people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Red Grapes

Healthy proteins in red grapes and oranges could treat type 2 diabetes

Although the same compounds are found naturally in some fruits, the amounts and type required for health improvement cannot be obtained from increased fruit consumption. Instead the treatment would be prepared in capsule form.

In a study of 32 overweight and obese people aged between 18-80, who had a body mass index (BMI) of between 25-40 found that the highly overweight subjects who had BMIs of over 27.5 with treatment showed improvements in insulin resistance and artery function.

Professor Thornalley said: “Obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are at epidemic levels in Westernised countries.

“Diabetic kidney disease will be the initial target to prove effective treatment for which we are currently seeking commercial investors and partners. Our new pharmaceutical is safe and expected to be an effective add-on treatment taken with current therapy.

“As exciting as our breakthrough is it is important to stress that physical activity, diet, other lifestyle factors and current treatments should be adhered to.”

Professor Martin O Weickert, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, and co-applicant for the grant, said: “We were really excited to participate in this study with Warwick Medical School, as taking part in world-leading research makes a real difference to our patients both now and in the future.

“As well as the positive effects for the UHCW patients who took part in the trial, we hope this study will lead to new treatments to help patients with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases all over the world.”

Eleanor Kennedy, DRWF Research Manager, said: “With obesity levels on the increase, research into diet and exercise is vital not just for our understanding of obesity and the conditions that it is associated with, like type 2 diabetes, but to people trying to lose weight.

“This research highlights the science behind the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet that incorporates plenty of fresh fruit. More research is obviously needed and it will be interesting to see how this compound works in a larger study population.”

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