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   Apr 13

Blueberry tea attracts attention of medical researchers for its potential as diabetes treatment

A herbal tea with blueberry as its base has attracted the attention of medical researchers at the Menzies Institute for its potential to reduce insulin dependence in diabetics.

Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in the world, and with a population of just over 500,000 people, Tasmania has almost one fifth of its residents living with or at risk of diabetes.

By 2025 it is estimated three million Australians will have the disease and most would have type 2 diabetes. There is no cure.

Gerard Spicer was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 13 years ago, and is one of 27,000 Tasmanians and more than 1.5 million Australians diagnosed with the chronic disease.

“If you don’t control it, you do really feel ill,” he said.

At first Mr Spicer was able to manage his diabetes with lifestyle changes, but about five years ago he needed to start taking insulin.

Half a dozen times a day he checks his blood glucose levels to see how many insulin units he needs to take.

Readings of blood glucose are supposed to be between four and eight, and Mr Spicer said before drinking the tea he would wake up each morning with a reading higher than eight.

Recently he introduced the blueberry-based herbal tea to his diet and said it seemed to be helping.

“Since [drinking the tea] I’ve been waking up with a more normal reading, more like 6.5 or 7, but very rarely high,” he said.

The tea contains a combination of blueberry fruit and leaves, raspberry, spearmint leaves and cinnamon, and has attracted the attention of researchers at the Menzies Institute in Hobart.

Senior Research Fellow Michelle Keske is trying to find out if the tea could reduce diabetics’ reliance on insulin.

She said type 2 diabetes was a very complicated disease to treat, but added pre-clinical trials had been positive.

“The tea has enabled that hormone, insulin, to improve glucose uptake into muscle and by doing that it lowers blood glucose levels and it does that by stimulating blood flow,” she said.

She said it was hard to find treatments that stimulated blood flow but said the blueberry tea looked promising.

It contains a number of polyphenols and flavinoids that she thinks helps stimulate blood flow.

“Because the tea is a complex mixture of a number of plant products, we don’t know if it’s one compound or the combination that seems to make it work,” Dr Keske said.

Human trials are scheduled to begin this year.

Blueberries ‘well-known for their health benefits’

Caroline Wells from Diabetes Tasmania said 27,000 Tasmanians have been diagnosed with diabetes, 10,000 more live with it but do not know it, and a further 45,000 are at high risk.

While there is no single cause, there are known risk factors including being overweight, a poor diet and not enough exercise.

Ms Wells said up to 60 per cent of the risk could be prevented through lifestyle modification.

“If it is not properly managed the complications can be devastating, including blindness, limb amputations, heart disease and kidney failure,” she said.

Naturopath Nisha De Jong sees customers with diabetes on a daily basis, and has conducted her own casual trial of blueberry tea.

She found those who had at least two cups of the blueberry tea a day had more stable blood sugar.

“Blueberries are well known for their health benefits, they are full of anti-oxidants,” she said.

Orchardist Carl Sykes has been growing the berries for the past 13 years.

But it was his teenage daughter who wanted a relaxing herbal tea that resulted in him experimenting with blueberry leaves.

Mr Sykes said he turned to an ancient tea-drinking culture for inspiration.

“Who are the masters of tea? The Chinese,” he said.

“So the whole focus was; if we were Chinese what would we do?”

Mr Sykes said the actual ratios of herbs in the tea were a trade secret.

Source: ABC

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