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Type 2 diabetes is a progressive metabolic disorder characterized by high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance. Long-term complications from poorly controlled type 2 diabetes include heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure, among others. Findings from a 2017 study demonstrated that sulforaphane reduces glucose production in the liver and improves blood glucose control. Glucose is the body’s primary metabolic fuel. In the fasted state, the body can produce glucose via gluconeogenesis, a highly conserved pathway that occurs primarily in the liver. Increased liver gluconeogenesis among people with type 2 diabetes is a major contributor to high blood glucose and subsequent disease complications.

The authors of the study investigated the effects of sulforaphane in several rodent models of type 2 diabetes and found that sulforaphane ameliorated many of the hallmark characteristics of the disease. Then they assessed sulforaphane’s effects in 97 people with type 2 diabetes. Sixty of the participants had well-regulated disease, but 37 had poorly regulated disease. Of those with poorly regulated disease, 17 had obesity. Nearly all of the participants took metformin, a common blood glucose-lowering drug.

Participants received either an oral placebo or glucoraphanin-rich broccoli sprout extract every day for 12 weeks. The authors of the study measured the participants' fasting blood glucose and HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) levels and assessed their glucose tolerance prior to and after the intervention.

Sulforaphane administration improved fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels in the obese participants who had poorly regulated type 2 diabetes. Sulforaphane mediated these effects via Nrf2 activity and subsequent reduced expression of enzymes that promote glucose production in the liver.

These findings suggest that sulforaphane ameliorates some of the hallmark characteristics of diabetes in humans. The mechanisms by which sulforaphane mediates these effects differ from those of metformin, suggesting that the two could work in a complementary manner to improve blood glucose control in obese people with type 2 diabetes.

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