This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Kevin Curran, a professor at the University of San Diego in southern California who teaches classes on ethnobotany and cell biology! You can check out his website here!
White mulberry (Morus alba) is a medium-sized tree native to Asia. This plant was originally cultivated as a food source for the silkworms used in the Chinese silk industry. As silk production spread around the world, so did the white mulberry tree. Now, we are seeing a new appreciation for this tree.
White mulberry: A superfood snack that helps keep our blood-sugar levels in check
Recent studies have demonstrated that eating the fruits of the white mulberry tree can deliver multiple health benefits. These tasty fruits are high in fiber, protein, micronutrients and a special molecule called DNJ. DNJ can help our body properly manage sugar levels in our bloodstream. This is important for those concerned with diabetes and weight loss.
Diabetes is on the rise. The International Diabetes Foundation predicts that by 2035, 582 million people world-wide will suffer from diabetes. This will be approximately 7% of the predicted global population in 2035.
Not only is diabetes prevalent in the world, it is also costly. In 2014 alone, diabetes incurred healthcare costs of $612 billion in just the United States. Clearly this is a major healthcare issue that demands our attention.
Today, approximately 90% of all cases of diabetes are known as type 2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by a progressive failure of the pancreas as well as the inability of the cells in our body to respond to insulin.
Insulin is an important hormone because it actively regulates the sugar levels in our blood. Our pancreas produces insulin and then sends it out as a hormone into our bloodstream. When our blood-sugar level is too high, insulin instructs our body to remove the excess glucose from our blood and store the sugar as glycogen.
In theory, this system works well to maintain a homeostasis of blood-sugar level in our bodies. However, when we overload our blood with sugar, we put too much stress on this system, and that can trigger the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
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Here’s a summary of how our blood-sugar regulation can go wrong…
- You eat a carbohydrate rich diet that puts excessive amount of sugar into your body.
- Your pancreas tries to keep up with your high sugar diet by producing lots of insulin.
- Over time, your body stops responding well to the high amount of insulin production.
- In an attempt to compensate, your pancreas produces even more insulin.
- Your pancreas eventually becomes overworked and exhausted.
- Your pancreas collapses and becomes dysfunctional.
- Type 2 diabetes sets in.
So…how do we prevent this downward spiral from ever happening?
The best way to defend yourself from the threat of diabetes is to exercise regularly and stay away from high sugar diets. Additionally, there are pharmaceutical medications that can complement these lifestyle changes.
However, many prescription drugs are costly or come with unwanted side effects. This is the reason that there’s currently a high demand for a natural remedy. White mulberry has emerged as an effective, natural way to help us lower our blood-sugar levels.
Research is telling us that a chemical compound in white mulberry can decrease our post-prandial blood-sugar levels (1,3,4,5,6). In other words, if we add white mulberry to our diet, we can prevent a big spike of sugar in our blood after we eat a meal.
If less sugar from a meal moves into our bloodstream, then less work is required from the pancreas. In this manner, white mulberry acts to stop the downward spiral before it begins. This is the reason why there has been so much excitement about the power of white mulberry.
The active ingredient in white mulberry that helps regulate blood sugar levels is called DNJ, or deoxynojirimycin. This compound is a potent alpha-glucosidase inhibitor. This means that DNJ can suppress a class of enzymes whose main job is to digest the sugars and starch that pass through our intestine.
To put it succinctly, DNJ slows down the machinery that moves sugars from our digestive system and into our blood. If we add white mulberry to our diet, then less sugar from our food will enter into our bloodstream (3).
Multiple groups have been publishing reports demonstrating this capacity of white mulberry to regulate blood sugar levels (1,3,4,5,6). Chung et al, conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study on 50 healthy human volunteers to measure how white mulberry could change blood-sugar levels after a meal (2).
The 50 volunteers were fed 75 grams of maltose (sugar) as well as varying amounts of mulberry leaf extract (1-5 grams). The scientists found that when subjects ate either 2.5 or 5 grams of mulberry leaf extract with the sugar meal, they experienced a significant decrease in blood-sugar levels (2). Clearly, this is interesting news to anyone suffering from symptoms associated with high blood-sugar levels (diabetes, obesity, inflammation).
In conclusion, it’s been exciting to see positive clinical results published for white mulberry. Dried white mulberry is a cheap and natural way to help suppress sugar spikes after a meal.
The dried fruit has a flavor somewhere between a fig and a raisin, with a slightly sweet taste. As mentioned, humans first employed this plant as a food source for silkworms in China.
It’s fascinating to think that 4000 years later, we are just now beginning to appreciate how the biochemistry of the white mulberry lends itself to human health issues, such as diabetes and obesity.
- Butt, Masood Sadiq, et al. “Morus alba L. nature’s functional tonic.” Trends in Food Science & Technology 19.10 (2008): 505-512.
- Chung, Hye In, et al. “Acute intake of mulberry leaf aqueous extract affects postprandial glucose response after maltose loading: Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study.” Journal of Functional Foods 5.3 (2013): 1502-1506.
- Kimura, Toshiyuki, et al. “Food-grade mulberry powder enriched with 1-deoxynojirimycin suppresses the elevation of postprandial blood glucose in humans.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 55.14 (2007): 5869-5874.
- Mahmoud, Hemdan Ibrahem, et al. “Hypoglycemic effect of white (Morus alba L.) and black (Morus nigra L.) mulberry fruits in diabetic rat.” European Journal of Chemistry 5.1 (2014): 65-72.
- Miyahara, Chieko, et al. “Inhibitory effects of mulberry leaf extract on postprandial hyperglycemia in normal rats.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 50.3 (2004): 161-164.
- Singab, Abdel Nasser B., et al. “Hypoglycemic effect of Egyptian Morus alba root bark extract: effect on diabetes and lipid peroxidation of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 100.3 (2005): 333-338.
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