Scientists have identified a compound in olive oil that may prevent diabetes by helping the body secrete more insulin, paving the way for low-cost strategies to fight the disease.
The health benefits of olives - and associated natural products such as olive oil - have long been recognised and touted by proponents of the Mediterranean diet.
Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in the US discovered that the olive-derived compound oleuropein helps the body secrete more insulin, a central signalling molecule in the body that controls metabolism.
The same compound also detoxifies another signalling molecule called amylin that over-produces and forms harmful aggregates in type 2 diabetes. In these two distinct ways, oleuropein helps prevent the onset of disease, they said.
"Our work provides new mechanistic insights into the long-standing question of why olive products can be anti- diabetic," said Bin Xu, assistant professor at Virginia Tech.
"We believe it will not only contribute to the biochemistry of the functions of the olive component oleuropein, but also have an impact on the general public to pay more attention to olive products in light of the current diabetes epidemic," Xu added.
The discovery could help improve understanding of the scientific basis of health benefits of olive products and develop new, low-cost nutraceutical strategies to fight type 2 diabetes and related obesity, researchers said.
The study was published in the journal Biochemistry.