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Curry Lowers Diabetes Risk, Study Finds

Curry spiceCurry spice
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Curry spice
Curry spice
Jessica Berman
According to a World Health Organization study, the number of people with Type 2 diabetes around the world will reach 366 million by 2030. People with this condition have trouble processing dietary sugar which, instead of providing energy, builds up to dangerous levels in their blood.  Now, a small study conducted in Thailand suggests that an ingredient found in curry dishes may reduce the risk of developing the chronic disease. 

A new study suggests curcumin may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes in people who are pre-diabetic, a condition that precedes full-blown diabetes. The substance is found in turmeric, the spice that gives curry dishes their characteristic flavor and yellow color. 

Researchers at Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok recruited 240 people who were all pre-diabetic.  The participants were educated about the condition and how to manage it with proper diet and exercise.  None was on any medication to manage their condition.  

For nine months, half the participants took six capsules of curcumin every day, while the other half was given a placebo, or dummy pill.  By the end of the study, 16 percent of patients in the placebo group developed Type 2 diabetes. None in the curcumin group did.

Constance Brown-Riggs is a dietitian and diabetes expert with the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  While the study was well done and in her view significant, Brown-Riggs says curry should not be viewed as a replacement for a healthy diet and exercise when it comes to managing diabetes.

“People tend to look for a silver bullet.  They are always looking for the quick fix as I call it, which is the 'silver bullet.'  The fact is that it is generally not one supplement that is going to prevent someone from going on to develop Type 2 diabetes," noted Brown-Riggs.

For now, she cautions against using herbs and spices in a concentrated form, even though Brown-Riggs acknowledges research is beginning to show they may have healthful, anti-oxidant properties that counter the effects of inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and cancer.

"Until we get a much larger body of research to support that, eating Asian cuisine is a good way of getting this particular spice - turmeric - in the diet," she said.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, often seen in obese individuals.  It usually begins with elevated blood sugar levels that are not high enough to be considered diabetic.  Commonly, people who begin eating better and losing weight can prevent the condition from progressing to full-blown diabetes.

In the study, people in the cucumin group also lost weight, while those in the placebo group did not.  Weight loss seems to reduce insulin resistance, the hallmark of the disease. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body no longer respond to the hormone which helps convert glucose from food into energy.  Blood sugar then remains elevated and, over many years, people with Type 2 diabetes can develop a host of complications, including poor blood circulation and blindness.

The Thai researchers speculate that tumeric has anti-inflammatory properties as well, that help protect insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas from damage, improving their efficiency.  In addition to insulin, beta cells produce a hormone that regulates blood sugar.

A study on curcumin’s potential benefits in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes is published in the journal Diabetes Care.

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