Asian pumpkin may help thwart type 1 diabetes, according to a preliminary new study from China.
The researchers studied rats. It's too soon to know if the findings apply to people.
Normally, people control blood sugar naturally through a hormone called insulin, which is made by certain cells in the pancreas.
But in type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks those pancreatic cells. That wrecks the insulin-making process, leaving blood sugar uncontrolled without insulin shots.
The Chinese study suggests that Asian pumpkin extract may help protect those pancreatic cells from the ravages of type 1 diabetes. The findings appear in July's Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
Pumpkin Extract vs. Diabetes?
The researchers included Tao Xia, PhD, of East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.
First, the scientists bought whole, mature Asian pumpkins — popularly called shark fin melon or Siam pumpkin — at a Shanghai market. Those pumpkins don't look like the orange pumpkins common in the United States. Instead, they've got a green and white rind.
The researchers took the pumpkins back to their lab, removed the seeds, dried the fruit, and concocted a pumpkin extract.
Next, the researchers mixed the pumpkin extract with water and fed it to rats for a month. Some of the rats had type 1 diabetes; other rats weren't diabetic.
After a month of consuming the pumpkin extract daily, the diabetic rats lowered their high blood sugar. The pumpkin extract didn't affect the blood sugar of the rats that weren't diabetic.
The researchers also compared diabetic rats that ate the pumpkin extract for a month with diabetic rats that didn't get the pumpkin extract.
Healthy, insulin-making pancreatic cells were more abundant in the diabetic rats that ate the pumpkin extract than in the diabetic rats that never consumed the pumpkin extract.
The pumpkin extract may help save some, but not all, of those insulin-making pancreatic cells or revive diabetes-damaged pancreatic cells, according to the researchers.
The pumpkin extract didn't affect the insulin-making pancreatic cells of nondiabetic rats.
The study doesn't identify what chemical or chemicals in the pumpkin extract may have been responsible for the results. Antioxidants in pumpkin may have played a role, the scientists suggest.
- Pumpkin — it's not just for pie. What do you think about this study? Talk about it on the Type 1 Diabetes Support Group board.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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