THE GUARDIAN : Thursday, Jul 22nd, 2010 Regular consumption of cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds may be the best way to prevent and manage the diabetes pandemic' in the country. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes. Diabetes has assumed pandemic' proportions in the country. It is estimated that no fewer than 10 million Nigerians are living with the degenerative disease. Diabetes has no cure, but could be managed with a combination of drugs, insulin injections and lifestyle change. However, due to the high cost of these drugs, insulin injections and the monitoring devices, the management becomes difficult to adhere to over time and most patients come down with the terminal diseases such as stroke and kidney failure. Insulin is a hormone that is central to regulating energy and glucose metabolism in the body. Insulin is secreted by groups of cells within the pancreas called islet cells. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach and has many functions in addition to insulin production. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle. When control of insulin levels fails, diabetes mellitus will result. As a consequence, insulin is used medically to treat some forms of diabetes mellitus. Recent studies suggest that cashew and pumpkin seeds extracts could potentially replace or at least drastically reduce the daily insulin injections that so many diabetics currently have to endure. Cashew is scientifically known as Anacardium occidentale and belongs to the plant family Anacardiaceae. In Nigeria, it is jambe in Hausa; kachu in Ibo; it is kanju in Kanuri; and kaju or kantonoyo in Yoruba. Botanically called Telfairia occidentalis, fluted pumpkin, one of the commonly consumed leafy vegetables in Nigeria, belongs to the plant family Cucurbitaceae. It is commonly called ugu (in Ibo). Recent research published in Chemistry & Industry reveals that pumpkin extract promotes regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells in diabetic rats, boosting levels of insulin-producing beta cells and insulin in the blood. According to the study also published in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, a group, led by Tao Xia of the East China Normal University, found that diabetic rats fed the extract had only five per cent less plasma insulin and eight per cent fewer insulin-positive (beta) cells compared to normal healthy rats. Xia said: "Pumpkin extract is potentially a very good product for pre-diabetic persons, as well as those who have already developed diabetes." He adds that although insulin injections will probably always be necessary for these patients, pumpkin extract could drastically reduce the amount of insulin they need to take. David Bender, sub-dean at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, United Kingdom (UK) said: "This research is very exciting... the main finding is that feeding pumpkin extract prevents the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta-cells... but it is impossible to say whether pumpkin extract would promote regeneration in humans." He added: "I think the exciting thing is that this may be a source of a medication that could be taken by mouth." The protective effect of pumpkin is thought to be due to both antioxidants and D-chiro-inositol, a molecule that mediates insulin activity. Boosting insulin levels has the effect of lowering blood sugar levels, which reduces levels of oxidative oxygen species that damage beta-cell membranes, preventing further damage and allowing for some regeneration. Beta cells levels in the diabetic rats are, however, unlikely ever to reach that of controls, because some of the cells will have been damaged beyond repair. The rats used in this study represent type I diabetes, but the researchers believe the pumpkin extract may also play a role in type II diabetes. Previous studies have indicated that fluted pumpkin possesses anti-inflammatory (painkiller), antibacterial, erythropoietic (erythropoiesis is the process by which red blood cells-erythrocytes- are produced), anticholesterolemic (prevents the build up of cholesterol) and antidiabetic (treat diabetes mellitus by lowering glucose levels in the blood) activities. Researchers at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, have earlier demonstrated how fluted pumpkin leaves reduced blood sugar levels. According to the study published in Journal of Pharmacy & Bioresources, the researchers evaluated the hypoglycaemic (lowers level of blood sugar) activity of the ethanolic extract of leaf of Telfairia occidentalis in normoglycaemic (normal blood glucose levels) and alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Alloxan are widely used to induce experimental diabetes in animals. This activity was compared with that of glibenclamide (an anti-diabetic medication, which is used in those patients with maturity onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes) and that of a mixture of glibenclamide and extract. Blood glucose was measured by a glucometer. The extract produced significant reduction in blood glucose level at two hours in normoglycaemic rats and at two and four hours in diabetic rats after a single oral dose of 250mg/kg. The reduction in blood glucose level produced by the sub-acute administration of extract on the 5th, 10th and 15th day were comparable to that of glibenclamide. The researchers concluded: "These results suggest that the leaves of Telfairia occidentalis possess hypoglycemic activity in normoglycemic and alloxan-induced diabetic rats and this could be beneficial in the ethnotherapy of diabetes mellitus." Also, according to a new study from the University of Montreal (Canada) and the Universit de Yaound (Cameroun), cashew seed extract shows promise as an effective anti-diabetic. Published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, the investigation analyzed the reputed health benefits of cashew tree products on diabetes, notably whether cashew extracts could improve the body's response to its own insulin. The goal of the study was to examine the impact of leaves, bark, seeds and apples from cashew trees, native to northeastern Brazil and other countries of the southern hemisphere, on cells that respond to insulin. Senior author, Pierre S. Haddad, a pharmacology professor at the University of Montreal's Faculty of Medicine, Canada, said: "Of all the extracts tested, only cashew seed extract significantly stimulated blood sugar absorption by muscle cells. "Extracts of other plant parts had no such effect, indicating that cashew seed extract likely contains active compounds, which can have potential anti-diabetic properties." Cashew tree products have long been alleged to be effective anti-inflammatory agents, counter high blood sugar and prevent insulin resistance among diabetics. Haddad, who is also Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Team in Aboriginal Anti-Diabetic Medicines at the University of Montreal, Canada, added: "Our study validates the traditional use of cashew tree products in diabetes and points to some of its natural components that can serve to create new oral therapies." The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods. Earlier studies suggest that eating cashew fruit, nuts and extract of the leaves and bark may be the key to beating high blood pressure, thrush, tooth and gum disease, diabetes, diarrhoea, dysentery and haemorrhoids. A 2006 study indicates that eating a diet rich in cashew nuts improves the sensitivity of a key reflex for maintaining healthy blood pressure known as the baroreflex. It has also been shown that gram positive bacteria, which cause tooth decay, acne, tuberculosis, and leprosy are killed by chemicals in cashew nuts, cashew, apples, and cashew shell oil.