Pumpkin could "drastically" reduce the need for daily insulin injections for diabetics, according to recent research.
Scientists found a compound in pumpkin that has been found to promote the regeneration of damaged insulin-producing beta cells in diabetic rats, thereby improving the level of insulin in their blood.
Laboratory data showed that diabetic rats that had been fed pumpkin extract had only 5 percent less plasma insulin and 8 percent fewer insulin-positive cells than normal healthy rats, according to a research paper published this week in the US-based Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
The researchers fed 12 diabetic rats and 12 normal rats either a normal diet or a diet supplemented with pumpkin extract for 30 days.
On average, the rats receiving the pumpkin supplements experienced a 36 percent increase in plasma insulin compared to the untreated rats, according to Xia Tao, the paper's lead author and a teacher at Shanghai's East China Normal University.
However, Xia, a professor at the College of Life Science, emphasized that further research was needed to evaluate the effects in human beings.
"But I tend to believe pumpkin extract could also promote regeneration of pancreatic beta cells in humans," he told the newspaper. "It is certain pumpkin can benefit diabetics by lowering blood sugar levels."
The professor added that the results were in line with the traditional Chinese idea that "pumpkin is a good food for diabetics".
"However, no scientific proof was ever provided," he said.
Last year, Xia and his colleagues published a paper in the England-based Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology about D-chiro-inositol, a molecule that mediates insulin activity, in pumpkin. The newest research has further strengthened his belief in the potential benefits of a pumpkin-rich diet.
Though they only experimented on rats with Type I diabetes, the researchers believe pumpkin extract will also help treat Type II because "it can allow regeneration of beta cells, which is also important in type II recovery," Xia said.
David Bender, sub-dean at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, told the US-based science magazine Chemistry & Industry that the research is "very exciting" in that "pumpkin may be a source of medicine to take by mouth."
Xia said he and his research group had also discovered the health benefits of several other plants and would soon release their findings.
Diabetes is a disorder in which the body has trouble regulating blood glucose levels. The disease affects more than 230 million people, almost 6 percent of the world's adult population, according to the World Diabetes Foundation.
(China Daily July 10, 2007)