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Antioxidant-rich foods lower risk of type 2 diabetes
November 26, 2017, 2:56 pm

A new study by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) reveals that individuals consuming food rich in antioxidants have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have shown that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular conditions. The Inserm study now shows that such a diet is similarly associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

Earlier research had shown that certain antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, lycophenes or flavonoids, were associated with a reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. But those studies had looked only at isolated nutrients, not at the total antioxidant capacity of the diet. For their study, researchers at Inserm wanted to verify whether overall diet, according to its antioxidant capacity, is associated with diabetes risk.

The study used data from 64,223 women who were free from diabetes and cardiovascular disease at the time of inclusion in the study that tracked them over a period from 1993 to 2008.  Each participant completed a dietary questionnaire at the beginning of the study, including detailed information on more than 200 different food items. Using this information, together with an Italian database providing the antioxidant capacity of a large number of different foods, the Inserm researchers calculated a score for 'total dietary antioxidant capacity' for each participant. The group then analyzed the associations between this score and the risk of diabetes occurrence during the follow-up period.

The results showed that diabetes risk diminished with increased antioxidant consumption up to a level of 15 mmol/day, above which the effect reached a plateau. Increasing dietary antioxidants to this level could be achieved through eating antioxidant-rich foods such as dark chocolate, tea, walnuts, prunes, blueberries, strawberries or hazelnuts, to name just a few.

Women with the highest antioxidant scores had a reduction in diabetes risk of 27 percent compared with those with the lowest scores. 'This link persisted even after taking into account all the other principal diabetes risk factors, including smoking, education level, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, family history of diabetes and, above all, Body Mass Index (BMI)

The foods and drinks that contributed the most to a high dietary antioxidant score were fruits and vegetables, tea and red wine (consumed in moderate quantities). The authors excluded coffee from the analysis, despite its high antioxidant levels, because the antioxidants in coffee have already been shown to be associated with reduced type 2 diabetes risk, and might therefore mask the effects of antioxidants from other sources.

“This work complements our current knowledge of the effect of isolated foods and nutrients, and provides a more comprehensive view of the relationship between food and type 2 diabetes. We have shown that an increased intake of antioxidants can contribute to a reduction in diabetes risk,” explained a lead researcher.

“One probable reason for this association between antioxidants and type2 diabetes is that antioxidant molecules counteract the effect of free radicals, which are damaging to cells. There are likely to be more specific actions in addition to this, for example an effect on the sensitivity of cells to insulin. This will need to be confirmed in future studies,” said another researcher.

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