Sugar, spice and all things nice for World Health Day

Apr 7 2016

Professor Manohar Garg

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) celebrates its 68th birthday today [April 7] the spotlight for the annual World Health Day has turned to diabetes, a chronic and debilitating condition that can turn deadly and lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, eye disease, nerve impairment, limb amputation and more.

Over 1 million Australians are living with the disease and 200 new cases are diagnosed every day. Clinicians at John Hunter Hospital are seeing an increasing number of children under the age of five, some as young as six months, being rushed in with serious symptoms.
Cost to the economy is estimated to be $14 billion annually.

Rates are also sky-rocketing in emerging nations. India has 65 million people listed with diabetes and this figure is expected to double in the next 20 years as traditional meals rich in herbs and spices are replaced by high-calorie fast foods.

Researchers in the Hunter are taking a holistic approach to tackling the disease, from exploring bioactive compounds isolated from spices for prevention of type 2 diabetes through to developing one of the world’s most advanced Artificial Pancreas devices to help children with Type 1.

Scientists from the University of Newcastle’s Nutraceuticals Research Group (NRG) are currently seeking 50 clinical trial recruits with a diagnosis of prediabetes to test whether curcumin (isolated from turmeric) and fish oil omega-3 fatty acids can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes or prevent it altogether.

They’re aiming to suppress systemic inflammation, the underlying reason for the development of type 2 diabetes, using the natural bioactive compounds.

A number of current trial participants are reporting anecdotal wellbeing benefits, though results will not be known until the ‘blind-controlled’ trial ends. Those interested in participating can call Rohith Thota on 4921 5636 or email prediabetesnewcastle@gmail.com.

NRG is also recruiting another 80 overweight men and women to delineate whether the preventive effects of fish oil omega-3 fatty acids are limited to women only. Please contact Kylie Abbott on 4921 5638 or email kylie.abbott@newcastle.edu.au.

The UON’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre has also been working with trial participants suffering type 2 diabetes to stimulate blood flow in the brain and reduce the threat of mental impairment.

The team is currently investigating the circulation benefits of resveratrol, a naturally occurring nutrient found in red wine, grapes, chocolate and also extracted from Japanese knotweed.

“The first of a series of papers emanating from our trial showed that people with type 2 diabetes mellitus have microvascular dysfunction and a heightened risk of accelerated cognitive decline,” study leader Professor Peter Howe says.

“In this study, 75mg of resveratrol improved cerebrovascular function and thereby may help to maintain cognitive performance in type 2 diabetes.”
At John Hunter Children’s Hospital, diabetes dieticians have been delving into the nutritional composition of different foods.

“As I’ve worked with families it has become clear that it’s not just about carbohydrates – we believe that fat and proteins also affect glucose levels,” Dr Carmel Smart says. “We’ve found that the effect comes later than with carbohydrates but it can cause ‘rises’ just as high.”

The research team is now creating a smartphone app to enable families to calculate insulin for meals incorporating carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
Using the HMRI Clinical Trials Centre they’re also testing an ‘artificial pancreas’ device that can stabilise glucose levels. Dr Bruce King, a Paediatric Endocrinologist at John Hunter Children’s Hospital, believes the device will help eliminate the guesswork from diabetes management.

“Children and their parents currently have to calculate how many carbohydrates are in a meal and check the blood glucose level every time they eat to work out insulin dose, but this method doesn’t factor in other nutrients which can have a bearing,” Dr King said. “The device will do it for them. That means fewer needles, fewer blood tests and more accurate results.”