An extract derived from pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia) may improve blood glucose levels in diabetics and exert antioxidant effects, according to a new study. If the research by scientists from the East China Normal University can be reproduced in humans, then consuming cucurbita pumpkin extract may promote regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells, boost levels of insulin-producing beta cells and raise insulin levels in the blood.
“The present study provides substantial evidence to demonstrate the hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) action of Cucurbita extract, as well as its role as an antioxidant to reveal a mechanism for its cytoprotective (cell protecting) action,” wrote authors Tao Xia and Qin Wang in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
Rejuvenating Beta Cells
Tao Xia and Qin Wang divided diabetic rats and normal rats into two groups, one fed a normal diet and the other fed the normal diet supplemented with the pumpkin extract for 30 days.
At the end of the study the researchers discovered that plasma insulin levels in the diabetic rats receiving cucurbita extract were restored to 95 percent of insulin levels in normal healthy animals. Additionally, the number of active insulin-positive (beta) cells in the treated animals was restored to 92 percent of those in the normal healthy controls.
“Pumpkin extract is potentially a very good product for pre-diabetic persons, as well as those who have already developed diabetes,” according to lead author Xia.
These remarkable benefits are believed due to actions of D-chiroinositol, a molecule isolated from cucurbita that mediates insulin activity. Additionally, a new class of compounds identified in cucurbita have been shown to confer antioxidant protection. Working together these components boost insulin levels to lower blood sugar levels and reduce production of oxidative oxygen species that damage beta-cell membranes; and prevent further damage to beta cells, allowing the cells to regenerate.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when people lose the ability to produce any insulin after the cells in the pancreas have been damaged, thought to be an autoimmune response.
The rats used in this study modeled Type 1 diabetes, but the researchers believe the pumpkin extract may also play a role in Type 2 diabetes. In the US, there are over 20 million people with Type 2 diabetes, equal to seven percent of the population. Patient care costs are thought to be as much as $132 billion, with $92 billion in direct costs from medications, according to American Diabetes Association figures.
“Thus, our studies support the notion that supplementation of Cucurbita fruit extract to diabetic patients would help in achieving good glycemic and metabolic control and prevent long-term complications as a result of the protection offered by its antioxidant actions, probably by preserving the residual beta-cell mass without further losses,” they concluded.
Commenting independently on the research, David Bender from Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, told Chemistry & Industry magazine that the research was very exciting. “The main finding is that feeding pumpkin extract prevents the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta-cells,” he said.
Herbal Support for Diabetes
In the late 1980s, Chinese doctors became alarmed by a huge increase in the incidence of diabetes in China. Observing that this previously rare condition appeared to be linked with newly adopted Western eating habits, they initially relied on Western diabetes drugs to treat what was perceived to be a primarily Western disorder. Eventually medical experts turned away from this approach after noting that, in addition to serious side effects, modern pharmaceuticals also failed to address the underlying cause of the problem.
A central tenet of Chinese healing is to treat both acute symptoms and the underlying cause of an illness. Based on this principal, leading Chinese researchers turned their attention to traditional herbal remedies used in China for thousands of years.
Researchers soon identified some 200 species of herbs that exhibited hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) properties. Some contained polysaccharides capable of restoring pancreatic tissues to enhance insulin output from functioning beta cells. Others were found to enhance microcirculation, and to increase availability of insulin and facilitate cellular metabolism.
One of the most promising herbs to come out of this research was the lowly pumpkin, Cucurbita ficifolia, which is widely regarded throughout China as a health food especially suited to aid diabetics by regulating blood sugar levels.
Modern Herbal Solution
After ten years of clinical research, a team of researchers at the Shanghai People’s Hospital introduced a unique herbal blend to counter insulin resistance, lower blood sugar levels and restore pancreatic function. Cucurbita (pumpkin) is one of the primary active ingredients in the formula.
By restoring healthy blood sugar regulation and normalizing insulin production the formula has been shown to aid in reversing chronic metabolic and chemical disturbances caused by long-term exposure to elevated insulin and blood glucose levels. Additionally, by curbing carbohydrate cravings the formula has been shown to support safe and natural weight loss.
The develoopers recommend taking 2 to 3 capsules, 2 to 3 times daily, 30 before meals. The combination of herbs in the formula will stimulate a steady improvement that becomes most noticeable in 7 to 10 days. Once blood sugar and insulin levels have normalized – commonly within 1 to 3 months – reduce intake to a daily maintenance program consisting of one capsule in the morning and one in the afternoon before meals to sustain optimal results.
1. Tao Xia, Qin Wang. Hypoglycaemic role of Cucurbita ficifolia (Cucurbitaceae) fruit extract in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Vol. 87, Num. 9, pgs 1753-1757.
2. L. Richards, Eating pumpkins helps diabetics. Chemistry & Industry, July 9, 2007, pg 9.