Non alcoholic blueberry-blackberry beverage shown to have anti diabetic properties in mice

Blueberries, and berries in general, are among foods labeled as “diabetes superfoods” by the American Association of Diabetes. Food science researchers at the University of Illinois have found that fermenting berries may improve their antidiabetic potential even more.

Previous research has shown that dietary blueberries may play a role in reducing hyperglycemia in obese mice, therefore de Mejia and colleagues wanted to determine if a fermented, dealcoholized blueberry-blackberry beverage would enhance the potential of the phenolic compounds in the berries that are responsible for reducing diabetic markers.

A new study shows that the fermented berry beverage did reduce the development of obesity and blood glucose levels in mice on a high-fat diet. The researchers had already determined that the berries, when fermented at low temperatures, resulted in an improved and higher concentration of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, found in the pigments of fruits such as blueberries, grapes, and apples, have been shown to promote insulin sensitivity, decrease blood glucose levels in the blood, and enhance insulin secretion. A previous cell culture study with the alcohol-free blueberry-blackberry wine, showed good results toward inhibiting enzymes related to glucose absorption.

The beverage included a ratio of 70 percent fermented blackberries to 30 percent fermented blueberries. The berries were collected from varieties grown at U of I’s Dixon Springs Agricultural Research Station in southern Illinois. Alcohol was removed from the beverage by rotoevaporation and was replaced with water. Some of the sugars left over after fermentation were also removed in the process.

During the study, groups of mice with diet-induced obesity and hyperglycemia were given the fermented berry beverage or the beverage with higher or lower enriched concentrations of the anthocyanins (0.1x, 1x, or 2x). Another group was given sitagliptin, a commonly used medication for diabetes, and another group was given water only. All groups ate the same diet, calories, and amount of sugars otherwise.

While benefits were seen in all groups drinking the fermented beverage, de Mejia says the group on the highest concentration of anthocyanins (2x) showed the greatest results, comparable to what was observed in the group on sitagliptin. This included no increase in body weight, which de Mejia says was a surprise.

The researchers also observed that glucose was deposited into tissue more than absorbed by and present in the blood, as well. “You want to avoid high glucose in the blood stream, and you want uptake into muscle, liver, and organs, and to keep the level in plasma and blood normal. We saw a reduction of glucose in the blood with the beverage, even in the beverage before it was enhanced,” de Mejia says.

They also saw an effect on oxidative stress in the obese mice.  “We saw that in the animals on 2x the enriched anthocyanins, the oxidative species went down, meaning they were kind of protected against oxidation. From that stand point, it was very positive looking at the oxidative stress of the animals because that can damage protein and DNA.”

Producing this berry wine, complete with the benefits of fermentation but without the alcohol, provides an opportunity for wine makers, de Mejia says. While the berry wine may not be able to replace medications for diabetics, de Mejia says it could help reduce the amount of medication needed; always under the doctor’s supervision and approval.

“There needs to be more studies to see how the anthocyanins work in the presence of medication, to see if they work synergistically, for example. Then, maybe, you could decrease the amount of the drug. All of these drugs for diabetes have adverse effects after so many years of use, even the safest ones.

Citation: Johnson, Michelle H., Matthew Wallig, Diego A. Luna Vital, and Elvira G. de Mejia. “Alcohol-free fermented blueberry–blackberry beverage phenolic extract attenuates diet-induced obesity and blood glucose in C57BL/6J mice.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 31 (2016): 45-59. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.12.013
Adapted from press release by University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)