The FSU Food Science and Chemistry departments have been studying several natural substances to evaluate their potential to prevent Type II Diabetes.
The FSU researchers have published several manuscripts which present evidence that certain components in these natural substances can inhibit the enzymes that break down carbohydrates – a process that releases sugar into the bloodstream.
Diabetes occurs when sugar builds up in the bloodstream. Currently, 26 million Americans have diabetes, according to WebMD.
In Type I Diabetes, which is typically present at birth, the body is unable to produce insulin altogether. In Type II Diabetes, which is developed later in life, the body has an insulin deficiency. Type II Diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes, according to WebMD.
Among the substances that have been studied by FSU researchers are cinnamon, blueberries, black tea, coffee beans, sugar beet leaves, cocoa, carrots, parsley and mint.
The compounds being studied are known as phenolic phytochemicals, which are chemicals that exist only in plants. They exist in all plants, but in different amounts, which could be indicative of their impact on disease prevention.
While FSU researchers’ evidence is promising, Chemistry and Food Science Professor Emmanoil Apostolidis said it is incorrect to suggest that these substances can simply prevent diabetes.
He said it is instead just “evidence to show that we have to do more research to prove that it can prevent Type II Diabetes.
“This is one step closer,” he added. “In research, we always go in small steps towards finding the truth and proving something, and many researchers contribute towards these findings.”
Apostolidis said when he was growing up in Greece, his grandmother would always give him herbs to cure his illnesses, and this incited his interest.
“As I was becoming a scientist, I had a curiosity. ‘How do they work?’ So that’s why I started studying plants and herbs in order to understand how they work in the human body, and this is very important, especially nowadays in order to develop health food products to prevent diseases,” he said.
He emphasized that the objective of the research is not to identify specific compounds because doing so would be moving toward drug development, which is not the goal of the researchers.
“We try to identify natural products that can potentially prevent diseases, and natural products based on research findings have the ability to work as a whole,” he said.
All of the research is done in vitro in test tubes, using chemical methods to determine phenolic phytochemical content, antioxidant activity and inhibitory effects against enzymes.
“Once we get promising results, as we did, for example, in black tea, then you move to animal trials, and, as a matter of fact, an animal trial on black tea to evaluate this effect is underway,” he said.
Blueberries will also likely be tested on animals due to positive evidence in initial studies, he added.
Diabetes prevention research at FSU has been conducted since 2004, and in that time six manuscripts by FSU researchers have been published in international medical journals.
Research and testing is funded by the departments’ budgets, but also largely from research partners.
Apostolidis said 90-95 percent of grants from partners such as Natick Labs and Ocean Spray go toward students expenses, with the remaining used for consumables.
The grants are primarily allocated to pay student researchers’ tuitions. Apostolidis said this is beneficial to students’ because “they don’t have to go and work part-time jobs in something that is not their field. They work always in the lab to gain more experience.”
Senior biochemistry and psychology major Kevin Fortier has been studying ayurvedic herbs for their potential to inhibit carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes, enzymes that release sugar into the bloodstream.
He said his studies have shown that of the herbs he tested, Fo-Ti root, an herbal remedy used in China, has the highest potential to inhibit carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes, and for the remainder of this semester and next semester, he will conduct further studies on this specific herb.
Fortier said he was initially focused on medical school. “Research was not in my line of sight as a top priority,” he said.
He originally viewed the chance to study alongside Apostolidis as an opportunity for professional science experience.
“Quickly, my experience turned into more than a resume builder,” he said. “I really worked hard, and learned enough to have Dr. Apostolidis ask me to work over the summer at the Natick Army Labs.”
He added, “The more I worked in research, the more I realized how much I enjoy it, and my career interest came to include research as a top goal.”
He said he believes the valuable experience he has gained studying at FSU will help him gain acceptance to graduate school.
“Not only have I had the opportunity to develop my research abilities, but I have also been able to learn about being successful in other areas of research, such as networking, communicating effectively and finding the right opportunities.”
Fortier said this type of research is important because it “supports the notion that natural interventions exist for modern health problems. It gives insight into how certain foods can be beneficial to us in ways that we do not ordinarily think out.”
Aspiring Health Professionals Club member Darlyn Llanos Jimenez said she is proud to attend a university that is interested in the prevention of diabetes.
Coming from a family with a history of diabetes, she said, “It is important to study and understand diabetes prevention due to it being a very large and well known health issue that affects many Americans. You never know if you’re next, so it is better to study diabetes prevention.”
Aspiring Health Professionals Club member Angelica Ruiz said, “I personally feel it’s a problem for everyone – especially because it is becoming more prominent.”
She said her significant other is pre-diabetic, and both of her grandmothers are diabetic.
She added, “Learning how to prevent it can help others avoid a major life change.”
Chemistry Club member Tara Hollins said, “I think it is important to study and understand diabetes prevention so that knowledge about it can continue to grow.”
She added that diabetes prevention is important to her personally because she comes from a “family with a history of diabetes and heart disease. I have made a vow that I will break the chain and continue to be healthy down the line when I decide to have my own family.”
Aspiring Health Professionals Club member Josh Morin said, “Any study that has real-world relevance, such as the prevention of diabetes, is very important.”
He added that studies on such a widespread issue could improve the reputation of FSU.
“Many people don’t realize that diabetes is more prevalent in China and India than here in America,” said Morin. “So any study that can improve the health of the worldwide population will shine positive light on the institution that produced the study.”