This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Rapidly changing levels of blood glucose as a response to eating a high-carbohydrate meal is now widely recognized as a trigger for many chronic illnesses, ranging from heart disease to cancer, metabolic dysfunction and diabetes.
Researchers have uncovered a host of naturally occurring compounds that slow the release of glucose from carbohydrates after consumption, or help to usher sugar into our cells where it is used for energy metabolism. Chromium is a mineral that is essential for proper glucose utilization, and resveratrol has been shown to improve insulin signaling to help prevent metabolic dysfunction.
Green tea has long been hailed for its high level of polyphenol antioxidants, most specifically the catechin known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG. Food scientists from Penn State published the results of a study in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research explaining how EGCG helps reduce blood sugar spikes in mice and may lead to new diet strategies for people. The scientists explain that glucose metabolism in mice is similar to humans and provides an accurate model to gauge efficacy in experimental models.
To determine the effect of EGCG on blood glucose spikes after eating, researchers separated mice into several groups based on body weight. After a period of fasting, the mice were given corn starch, maltose or sucrose. One group of mice received EGCG along with the feed, while a control group was not fed the compound. The researchers then tested the blood sugar levels of both groups.
The group of mice fed the bioactive EGCG compound had a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels after eating corn starch, but not the maltose or sucrose sugars. Lead study author, Dr. Joshua Lambert noted, “The spike in blood glucose level is about 50 percent lower than the increase in the blood glucose level of mice that were not fed EGCG.” The dose of EGCG fed to the mice was equivalent to about one and a half cups of green tea for a human.
The scientists determined that EGCG blocks the action of an enzyme called alpha-amylase that normally breaks carbohydrates into simple sugars for digestion. The found that EGCG can inhibit the enzymes ability to break down starches, as they also found that EGCG reduced the activity of alpha-amylase in the pancreas by 34 percent. They believe that the same mechanism found in mice is at work in carbohydrate breakdown and absorption in humans.
The researchers indicated that it is important to take EGCG with starchy foods to maximize the action, and found that the green tea extract has no effect on blocking the breakdown of sugars. Millions of people consume a diet largely consisting of processed carbohydrates that surge blood glucose levels within minutes of eating. This places them at significant risk for many devastating diseases, and poses dire complications for those already suffering from metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Drinking fresh brewed green tea or taking a standardized EGCG supplement with starchy meals may offer protection against post meal blood glucose spikes.