Saturday, March 14, 2020

Retrospective #392: “Broccoli May Help Fight Diabetes”

When I read this headline in Medscape Medical News, in a write-up by an MD, of a real research project, my hopes soared. I thought, doctors were adopting the precept that Hippocrates, “Father of Western Medicine,” had made famous: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Finally, we had come full circle!
The full title of the Medscape précis of the study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, was “Antioxidant in Broccoli May Help Fight Diabetes.” Nevertheless, I still believed that these medical doctors – the study authors and the Medscape writer – were advocating that we eat a diet of healthy, whole foods. And that there was a dietary fix for those among us who had already developed, to a lesser or greater degree, Insulin Resistance, that is, an intolerance for Carbohydrates and were overweight, obese, or had been diagnosed pre-diabetic or a Type 2 diabetic.
And the first sentence of the Medscape piece did not disabuse me of this Pollyannish vision of the future – a mirage or hallucination as it turns out. It described the antioxidant in Broccoli as “a new option for treating Type 2 diabetes.” The second sentence went on to describe the mechanism that the antioxident used was that it “reduces exaggerated glucose production by the liver in Type 2 diabetes,” in much the same way that Metformin does.
Unfortunately, in the sixth paragraph, the full story – and the sad truth – emerged: “The study used highly concentrated broccoli extract, which would be equivalent to eating about 5kg [11 pounds!] of broccoli per day.” “Because it’s almost impossible to eat such large amounts of broccoli [diya think?], [the antioxidant] needs to be taken as an extract or concentrate.” Okay, but where does this revelation take us?
“We think broccoli extract could be a very exciting addition to treatments that we already have,” the lead researcher said. “When we gave it to patients and measured their glucose control before and 12 weeks after treatment, we saw significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and HbA1c in obese patients with dysregulated Type 2 diabetes,” he reported. The results were ‘very encouraging,’ he added. But, for what, I still wondered.
So, where does this well-designed research in basic science lead? Medscape explained: “Currently, they [the researchers] are working with a farmer-owned organization in Sweden…to make the extract available as a functional food preparation.” Aha! A collaboration: Basic Science → Applied Science + Farmer → $$$$ for all.
Do you think I am being too cynical? Just read the accompanying Conflict of Interest Disclosure:
“The study was sponsored by Lund University. Lantmännen [the local farmer-owned organization] provided the broccoli extract and placebo for the study, and Lantmännen Research Fund financed part of the study. Lantmännen reports no influence on the study procedures, data analysis, or data interpretation. Rosengren [the lead researcher] had no relevant financial relationships. Two coauthors are inventors on patent applications submitted by Lund University that cover the use of sulforaphane [the antioxidant] to treat exaggerated hepatic glucose production. The rights to use this patent have been licensed to Lantmännen” [the local farmer-owned organization].
Okay. I wasted my time reading this piece of garbage from the usually reliable Medscape Medical News. But it is medical business news in the sense that universities, even the best of them like Lund, are not above pecuniary interests. They need “research funds” to prosper, just as “local farmer-owned organizations” need money to survive. But this story is not about eating in a healthy way to avoid developing Insulin Resistance (Carbohydrate Intolerance) or even to treat “obese patients with dysregulated Type 2 diabetes.” It’s about developing a new drug to treat Type 2 Diabetes.
So, I got to write another curmudgeonly piece to offset my usual lecture about eating Very Low Carb for losing weight without hunger, and lowering your blood glucose AND blood insulin levels. You were spared having to read that.
So, have doctors come full circle with respect to eating real food? Not in my lifetime, a friend quipped. Nor in theirs, I replied.

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