Researchers in Canada have found new evidence that buckwheat, a grain used in making pancakes, may be beneficial in the management of diabetes.
In a controlled study, they showed that extracts of the seed lowered blood glucose levels by 12 per cent to 19 per cent when fed to diabetic rats. The report follows World Diabetes Day last week, with campaigns from the World Health Organisation and International Diabetes Federation aiming to focus on prevention of the disease, rising dramatically in the developed world.
The study may lead to new uses of the grain as a dietary supplement or functional food to help people with diabetes and others with conditions involving elevated glucose, the researchers claim. Their findings will appear in the 3 December issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
"With diabetes on the rise, incorporation of buckwheat into the diet could help provide a safe, easy and inexpensive way to lower glucose levels and reduce the risk of complications associated with the disease, including heart, nerve and kidney problems," said study leader Carla G. Taylor, an associate professor in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Canada. "Buckwheat won't cure diabetes, but we'd like to evaluate its inclusion in food products as a management aid."
However until similar studies are done on humans with diabetes, no one knows exactly how much buckwheat - in flour or extract form - must be eaten in order to obtain a beneficial effect on glucose levels, Taylor said.
To analyse the effect of buckwheat on elevated blood glucose levels, the researchers studied a group of rats (approximately 40) with chemically-induced diabetes. The rat models represented Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent), which is characterised by a lack of the hormone insulin, needed by cells to use glucose properly. Under controlled conditions, the rats were given a single dose of either buckwheat extract or a placebo and their glucose levels were subsequently measured.
Blood glucose concentrations were reduced by 12-19 per cent in the rats that were fed the extract, while no glucose reduction was observed in the rats that received the placebo, demonstrating that buckwheat extract can lower glucose levels in diabetic animals after a meal, the researchers say.
Based on studies by others, the active component in buckwheat responsible for lowering blood glucose appears to be chiro-inositol, they explain. The compound, which is relatively high in buckwheat and rarely found in other foods, has been previously shown in animal and human studies to play a significant role in glucose metabolism and cell signalling. Researchers do not know exactly how it works, but preliminary evidence suggests that it may make the cells more sensitive to insulin or may act as an insulin mimic.
There could be other compounds in buckwheat that reduce glucose levels, but these were not identified in this study, added co-investigator Roman Przybylski.
Although the rats used in this study were models for Type 1 diabetes, the researchers predict that buckwheat will have a similar glucose-lowering effect when given to rat models of Type 2 diabetes, which they plan to test next. Also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, Type 2 is the most common form in people and is characterized by the inability of cells to respond properly to insulin.
Przybylski is currently collaborating with Kade Research, a Canadian-based company involved in research and development of new buckwheat varieties that contain much higher amounts of chiro-inositol for food applications.
Originally cultivated in the cooler countries of Central Asia, buckwheat has become part of the cuisines of Finland, Austria, northern Italy, France, Russia, and eastern Europe.