Researchers in Switzerland are reporting discovery of natural plant
materials that may regulate starch digestion — slowing down the body’s
conversion of potatoes, rice, and other carbohydrate-rich foods into
sugar. The findings could lead to new functional foods that fight
diabetes, they say in a new report.
In the new study, Elena Lo Piparo and colleagues explain that a key
digestive protein called alpha-amylase rapidly converts certain
high-carb foods into glucose or blood sugar. That fast conversion
results in sudden spikes in blood sugar in patients with diabetes.
A common clinical strategy to manage sharp rises in blood glucose
after eating is the use of pharmaceutical agents that inhibit specific
starch-splitting enzymes. Although researchers have known for years
that some natural foods appear to contain chemicals capable of blocking
alpha-amylase, the exact structure and mechanism of action of these
substances remained unknown.
The researchers at Nestlé Research Center were interested in finding
natural food-based compounds that can modulate this process, and to
further understand the molecular mechanisms through which this
interaction occurs. Using molecular modeling techniques they selected
19 plant components, called flavonoids, to be tested for their ability
to block alpha-amylase activity.
They identified 7 flavonoids with significant inhibition of
alpha-amylase, the strongest of which inhibited activity by 99 percent.
Knowledge gained from this study will lead to a better understanding
about food-based compounds and their natural properties, to help the
research and development of products with a positive impact on health
American Chemical Society. June 2008.