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As Diabetes Increases, a Vegetable Could Help


A new variety of purple broccoli. (Photo: Courtesy of Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease on the rise around the world. And, not everyone can take the medication that treats it. However, researchers have discovered that a compound found in a common vegetable might help treat diabetes.

In 2016 the World Health Organization published its Global Report on Diabetes. It says the number of diabetic adults rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

Diabetes happens in two ways. If the body does not produce enough of a hormone called insulin it is called Type 1. Type 2 diabetes is when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.

Insulin controls levels of sugar in the blood.

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. It can lead to an early death.

India is one of the countries that could be facing a public health crisis as cases of diabetes increase. Amit Jain is a children's doctor in that country. He says obesity is one of the main reasons people get Type 2 diabetes.

However, children who are not obese can also get diabetes.

Rohin Sarin is a regular 15-year old kid. He goes to school. He likes sports. But unlike most children, four times a day he has to take a shot of insulin.

Rohin has type 2 diabetes.

"Sometimes it affects me negatively like if I just play a lot and I don't eat my food properly; then my sugar goes down. So, then I feel dizzy and I am not able to play the sport properly."

About 300 million people around the world have type-2 diabetics. A large percentage of these people cannot take a drug used to treat this disease.

The drug metformin is a first-line therapy. This means it is often the first drug doctors give their patients. However, the drug has side effects. It can damage the kidneys and upset the stomach.

Enter broccoli.

This vegetable has a chemical compound called sulforaphane. And in testing, this compound appears to work as well as the drug metformin at reducing blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Anders Rosengren, a doctor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, led the study.

"We think this is very exciting because there have been so many claims over the years of different food, dietary components having different health effects. But here, we have really scientifically-based proof that it has an effect on type-2 diabetes."

Dr. Rosengren and his team experimented with 97 type-2 diabetes patients. All were treated with metformin. But one group of the patients were also given sulforaphane every day for three months. The other patients were given a placebo.

On average, the participants who were given the broccoli medicine saw their blood glucose drop by 10% more than those who took the placebo. The broccoli pill was most effective in the patients who were obese. They started with higher glucose levels than the others.

Dr. Rosengren says that next he wants to study the effects sulforaphane has on pre-diabetic patients. These are people who have not yet taken the drug metformin.

"If you were to have people without metformin at all, it might be that the sulforaphane effect might be even stronger."

The researchers published their finding in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

But do not think that just eating broccoli is enough to prevent or treat diabetes. You would have to eat about five kilograms every day to get enough sulforaphane.

The study patients got a pill containing a concentrated form of the broccoli compound. It is about 100 times stronger than the amount found in broccoli.

But, for diabetics who hate broccoli, that could be welcome news.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Reports from VOA’s Kevin Enochs and Jessica Berman contributed to this story adapted by Anna Matteo for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

insulin n. a substance that your body makes and uses to turn sugar into energy

pancreas n. a large gland of the body that is near the stomach and that produces insulin and other substances that help the body digest food

negatively adv. harmful or bad : not wanted

sugar medical noun the amount of sugar present in a person's blood at a particular time

dizzy adj. having a whirling sensation in the head with a tendency to fall : mentally confused

dietary adj. of or relating to a diet

component n. one of the parts of something (such as a system or mixture) : an important piece of something

concentrated adj. made stronger or more pure by removing water

placebo medical noun a pill or substance that is given to a patient like a drug but that has no physical effect on the patient

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