Juicy research pinpoints NZ blackcurrant role in diabetes prevention

With diabetes being Kiwi’s fastest growing health issue, nutritionist Sheena Hendon reports on the finding of juicy new research pinpointing New Zealand blackcurrant’s potential role in the treatment of this serious, yet preventable disease.

Do you know of someone close to you – a family member or friend who has diabetes or prediabetes? The odds are that you do because the number of New Zealanders living with diabetes has doubled from 125,000 to 250,000 in the past ten years, with 40 new diabetes diagnoses every day. It is estimated a further 1.1 million Kiwis – that’s 1 in 4 all adults, have pre-diabetes and a high risk of developing the condition. Serious stuff!

Diabetes is New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing health issue, with an estimated direct cost to the country of $1.3 million per year. And together with closely linked heart disease, are responsible for the deaths of more New Zealanders each year than even cigarettes.

Needless to say, the race is on to find ways to prevent or delay diabetes, and that is why, once again, research highlighting the amazing nutritional and therapeutic benefits of NZ blackcurrants, and pinpointing their potential role in reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is so exciting.

What is diabetes?

To understand the importance of this new research, it may help to understand more about diabetes. So here goes.

Diabetes is an enduring disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone made by part of the digestive system, called the pancreas that acts as a key to let glucose, which comes from carbohydrate food we eat, pass from the blood stream into the cells in the body to produce energy.

Everyone needs some glucose in their blood, but the level of glucose should not be too high. High glucose levels can damage your body over time. Pre-diabetes (also known as impaired glucose tolerance) occurs when the glucose (sugar) in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes.

There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational.

  • Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by an auto-immune reaction where the body’s defence system attacks the cells that produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes produce very little or no insulin. People of any age can be affected, but it usually develops in children or young adults. People with type 1 diabetes need injections of insulin every day to control the levels of glucose in their blood.
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for at least 90 per cent of all cases of diabetes. It can occur at any age and remain undetected for many years. Often people with type 2 diabetes can initially manage their condition through exercise and diet, however, over time some people will require oral drugs and or insulin.
There is a clear link between type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) and high levels of fats in the blood (the medical name for this is dyslipidaemia). This combination of diabetes with hypertension and dyslipidaemia is sometimes called ‘the Metabolic Syndrome’ or Syndrome X.

  • Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman has high levels of glucose in her blood. Gestational diabetes is temporary and usually, goes after pregnancy. However, a woman who has had gestational diabetes has a 50-60 per cent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Evidence-based research link between NZ blackcurrant intake and reduced diabetes risk

Scientists at the UK Universities of Chichester and Worcester worked in collaboration to measure the effects of supplementing with New Zealand blackcurrant powder on insulin and glucose levels – key measures of blood sugar control and diabetes. Healthy, non-diabetic adults were supplemented with the same amount of blackcurrant powder for seven days and then fasting insulin and glucose levels were measured over a period of 2 hours, as well as glucose loading amounts before and after the study.

The researchers illustrated that those who had the 7-day intake of NZ Blackcurrant powder had significantly lower blood insulin and glucose levels than those not taking this berry powder. These results indicated that the NZ blackcurrants seemed to increase insulin sensitivity enabling blood sugars to clear more easily and hence, may reduce the risk of development of Type 2 diabetes in healthy individuals. READ HERE for more detail.

So, how might NZ blackcurrants lower blood insulin and glucose levels?

Blackcurrants are well-known to be packed with a range of healthy compounds, including massive doses of the antioxidant, vitamin C about four times more vitamin C than oranges and 16 times more than blueberries. They also contain polyphenols, particularly anthocyanins – compounds that give the berries their intense purple colour. New Zealand Blackcurrant varietals have very high anthocyanin levels, and it is this that potentially links them to positively affecting these diabetes markers and may underpin many of their other beneficial health properties.

The lower blood glucose levels seen in the study may be due to inhibition of certain chemical and enzyme reactions in the gut and pancreas by these anthocyanins, improving glucose uptake and absorption. However, more testing and research is necessary to be clear of the exact mechanisms.

Barker’s of Geraldine continues to commit to using 100% NZ blackcurrants in our fruits syrups, juices and preserves.

Diabetes New Zealand (2017) retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/11743/diabetes_and_insulin_WEB.pdf
Willems, M. E. T., Silva, J. D. S., Cook, M. D., & Blacker, S. D. (2017). Beneficial effects on fasting insulin and postprandial responses through 7-day intake of New Zealand blackcurrant powder. Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 7(7), 483-493. Retrieved from http://www.ffhdj.com/index.php/ffhd/article/view/335/628
New Zealand Herald (2017). The number of Kiwis with diabetes doubled in past ten years
Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11539392