Quebec may be known for maple syrup and poutine, but perhaps soon strawberries can be added to the list. A varietal known as the Authentic Orleans strawberry appears to help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Grown on the Île d’Orléans—an island on the St. Lawrence River not far from downtown Québec City—the juicy, red berry contains a greater concentration of certain antioxidants than traditional varieties, its producers claim.
The strawberry was recently the focus of a clinical trial headed by scientists from Laval University and the Centre hospitalier de l'Université Laval. Sixty people participated, consuming either an extract rich in polyphenols derived from cranberries and Authentic Orleans strawberries or a placebo over a six-week period.
The results showed that consuming the Orleans-strawberry extract reduced insulin resistance by about 20 per cent and improved glucose management in obese people and those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
“The clinical study showed that the strawberries with cranberries reduced insulin resistance significantly,” says André Gosselin, professor of horticulture at Laval and co-owner of Les Fraises de l’Île d’Orléans, in a phone interview with Yahoo Canada. “It could be a natural product to help people who are obese or who could become diabetic.”
The Orleans is a new strawberry cultivar (a patented genetic selection of strawberry) characterized by unusually high levels of polyphenols, which act as anti-oxidants to protect cells and body chemicals against damage caused by free radicals. Combined with polyphenols of cranberries, those of the Orleans strawberry are being used in a product called GlucoPhenol, which producers claim could be a safer alternative to metformin, a commonly used drug to treat Type 2 diabetes that helps control blood-glucose levels.
Although metformin may also reduce the risk of developing the disease among people who are at risk, it can cause side effects such as lactic acidosis—a potentially life-threatening condition--and gastrointestinal problems.
While strawberries and strawberry extract may be helpful to people with or at risk of diabetes, Joanne Lewis, manager of diabetes education at the Canadian Diabetes Association, recommends caution, as more research is needed.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes, Natural Health Products (NHPs)—which include herbal medicines, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, probiotics and many other naturally occurring substances—are widely used, but the evidence of their efficacy in the prevention of diabetes is unknown.
“Polyphenols and antioxidants are promising compounds that may help to control oxidative stress and inflammation, which may play a role in reducing insulin resistance and the complications of diabetes,” Lewis tells Yahoo Canada. “The long-term safety and efficacy of these compounds are of concern. However, it’s encouraging to see research that shows promise.”
Lewis says that the best way to reduce the risk of diabetes is to adopt improved lifestyle habits that result in a five to seven per cent weight loss through regular physical activity and healthy eating.
Nevertheless, strawberries still make a good snack.
“In general, strawberries are a great choice for people with diabetes and people at risk for developing diabetes,” Lewis says. “A two-cup serving contains roughly 15 grams of available carbohydrate, compared to other fruit where a much smaller portion provides an equal amount of carbohydrate.”