It turns out that cherries might be good for people with diabetes. Scientists have discovered that a group of naturally occurring chemicals found in cherries could help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
In early laboratory studies using animal cells, the chemicals, called anthocyanins, increased insulin production by half. The results were published in an issue of the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Anthocyanins are partly responsible for the color of many fruits, including cherries. They also are antioxidants, which are chemicals that seem to be connected to a number of health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer.
But researchers are quick to point out that anthocyanins have not been tested on people yet. Until that happens, people with diabetes should continue to follow what their healthcare providers tell them. “We’re excited with the laboratory results so far, but more studies are needed.” says study leader Muralee Nair, Ph.D., a natural products chemist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
While fresh cherries and fruits containing anthocyanins are easily available, Nair thinks that anthocyanins could be used in new products, such as pills or specialty juices that people could take to help treat diabetes. Such products may take several more years to develop, he notes. The study, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, involved tart cherries (also known as sour cherries or pie cherries), a popular variety in the United States, and the Cornelian cherry, which is widely consumed in Europe. When the animal cells were exposed to anthocyanins, the amount of insulin produced went up by half. Researchers aren’t’ sure why this happens, though.
More than just diabetes
Cherry anthocyanins show promise for the prevention of type 2 diabetes and for helping control glucose levels in those who already have diabetes. But the benefits don’t stop there. Although other fruits, including red grapes, strawberries and blueberries, also contain anthocyanins, cherries appear to be the most promising source of these compounds on the basis of serving size, according to the researcher. These compounds, a help in eating well with diabetes, are found in both sweet and sour (tart) cherry varieties.
The possible benefits of cherries extend beyond diabetes. Previous studies by the researcher found that certain anthocyanins isolated from cherries have anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in fighting arthritis. Nair’s colleagues have found that cherries also may help fight colon cancer.
However, people with diabetes are encouraged to use caution when it comes to consuming maraschino cherries, the bright red candied version that come with ice cream and cocktails. Many of the beneficial cherry pigments have been removed during processing, replaced with food coloring, and extra sugar has been added.