Pancreatic cells could regenerate and produce insulin again in type 1 and type 2 diabetes

| September 11, 2014

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, known as beta-cells, which produce the hormone insulin. Insulin is needed for moving glucose out of the blood stream and into muscles and other tissues. The condition is usually diagnosed after around 70 per cent of the beta-cells cease to function and type 1 diabetics need to inject a synthetic form of insulin to replace the missing hormone.

In type 2 diabetes, too, insulin production tends to decline, with the beta-cells dying off faster than normal. Several different factors appear to be involved in this, including high blood sugar and blood fat levels, inflammatory compounds and high levels of the hormone leptin. More people with type 2 diabetes now inject insulin than those with type 1.

At one time, it was thought that losing the ability to produce insulin was permanent and irreversible. But as I wrote here, scientists have discovered recently that beta-cell function can come back – in animal models of diabetes, at least. Now, a study published in the journal Nature on 20 August has shown just how remarkable this capacity for regeneration could be. The pancreas looks to be even more adaptable and to possess a greater potential for self-healing than was previously assumed.

The researchers, at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, are the first to reveal a mechanism by which other cells in the pancreas called delta-cells, (which produce somatostatin, another pancreatic hormone) revert to a precursor-like cell state before being ‘reborn’ as beta-cells in diabetic mice.1 Although this only appears to happen in young mice with type 1 diabetes, it provides further evidence that loss of beta-cell function might not be the end of the story.

Science is moving ahead fast in this area. An internet search for “beta-cell regeneration” brings up hundreds of studies carried out over the last few years. And some of the most interesting research is on compounds that could help to increase beta-cell numbers and so kick an ailing pancreas back into life. While Big Pharma is looking for chemicals it can patent as the next generation of money-spinning diabetes drugs, some natural substances have already been identified that could halt declining insulin production or help people who are currently injecting insulin to make a little more of their own.

A natural body chemical that appears to be vital for the regeneration of beta-cells is GABA (full name gammaaminobutyric acid). Better known for its role as a neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA has been shown in new research to encourage the proliferation of beta-cells and prolong their lives. In a new study where human pancreatic cells were grafted into the pancreas of diabetic mice, raising GABA levels led to regeneration of the human cells, increased insulin production and lowered blood sugar levels in the experimental mice.2 Other research has also shown that GABArestores beta-cell mass and reverses type-1 diabetes in severely diabetic mice.3

How to help your beta-cells to regenerate

Although supplements of GABA are available, trying to directly boost body levels of neurotransmitters is often hit-and-miss. A better approach might be to help your body make more of its own GABA.The amino acid L-glutamine is the raw material for GABA production, aided by vitamin B6 (which acts as an essential co-enzyme) and by the amino acid taurine and the mineral zinc.

  • L-glutamine is available as a supplement in powder form. Take 5-10 grams per day, mixed into a cold drink (not hot, since this de-activates it), first thing in the morning and/or at bedtime.
  • Vitamin B6 is best utilised by the body in the natural pyridoxal-5-phosphate form. Take 50 mg a day, as part of a B-complex supplement.
  • Taurine can be purchased as capsules or powder. Take 500-1000 mg a day.
  • Zinc works best in the form of zinc citrate or zinc orotate. Take a supplement of 30 mg a day.

Extracts of some herbs have also been found to stimulate the regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells and improve insulin production in animal studies. Three of the most promising are:

  • Gymnema sylvestre
  • Fenugreek
  • The Indian kino tree (Pterocarpus marsupium)

These are all available as herbal supplements in the UK. You can find further information about them here.

If you have diabetes, you will be well aware that one of its complications can be nerve damage or neuropathy. In my next blog post, I’ll be telling you about a new device that could detect this condition at an early stage, as well as giving some tips on nutrients that could help to prevent it.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1.     Chera S, Baronnier D, Ghila L, Cigliola V, Jensen JN, Gu G, Furuyama K, Thorel F, Gribble FM, Reimann F, Herrera PL. Diabetes recovery by age-dependent conversion of pancreatic δ-cells into insulin producers. Nature. Aug 20 2014 (Online ahead of print).

2.     Purwana I, Zheng J, Li X et al. GABA promotes human β-cell proliferation and modulates glucose homeostasis. Diabetes. Jul 9 2014 (Online ahead of print).

3.     Soltani N, Qiu H, Aleksic M et al. GABA exerts protective and regenerative effects on islet beta cells and reverses diabetes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011; 108(28):11692-11697.

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Category: Vitamins and Nutrients

Comments (11)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. Nancy says:

    five months ago I constantly had to go to the bathroom. I thought it was because I gave up soft drinks and was only drinking water. One day I had a stomachache. I was in bed for 4 days. The doctor’s appointment was for a Wednesday. I got sick and went to emergency room on a Monday. I was told my blood sugar level was 810 and I have diabetes. Since then, As the disease progressed all medication stopped working.

  2. QuincyT says:

    I think we’re underestimating the power of our bodies and their abillity to heal and regenerate. We’ve become too reliant on drugs and we seem to be paying the price for it.

  3. Megan says:

    I recently subscribed to your newsletter and I really enjoy the info you send to your readers. Keep up the good work!

  4. Dalphine says:

    Isn’t the body just amazing? I never knew the pancrease can regenrate itself – just like the liver. We CAN heal ourselves.

  5. shruthi says:

    Hi ,

    My husband who is suffering from chronic pancreatitis for the past 10 years. Because of this he has developed diabetes. His sugar levels keep fluctuating. The digestive supplements he takes for pancreatitis is causing low- sugar every alternative night. Kindly help us.

  6. Aruna says:

    Hi Martin,

    This is Aruna..I am 24 years old and working in an IT company in India. I am an juvenile diabetic from my 8 years of age..On a daily basis I am injecting myself insulin twice daily..recently i got affected with diabetic ketoacedosis and was admitted in hospital due to severity of my blood sugar level..all these years i did not feel much about my health issue and i did not follow any diet restriction neither exercises nor i avoided sweets.
    Now after been recovered from this keto acidosis, i am following diet restriction and doing yogas..i seriously want to find some permanent solution for my health issue…I am not scared of injections..but being an diabetic since my childhood makes me feel.inferior mother is very upset when i was sick..
    Is there any remedy that can cure diabetes type 1???I am having stevia these days as i read in an article that stevia might revitalize beta cells…is it so? I know that there isn’t any thing as such as of now…but with hope i am waiting for a positive reply.
    Thanks and Regards,

    • MartinHum says:

      Hi Aruna,
      My apologies for taking so long to respond to your question. I cannot, of course, make any personal recommendation for you, but you are right that compounds in stevia have been found to boost insulin production. In fact, there are a lot of herbs that have been shown in animal studies to increase insulin production or to regenerate the beta cells. These include:
      Moringa oleifera – known as the drumstick tree, or sahjan in Hindi. It has been found to restore the normal structure and insulin-producing function of the pancreas.
      Pterocarpus marsupium – the Indian kino tree, also called Vijaysar. An extract of its bark has been shown to have a regenerative effect on the pancreatic beta cells.
      Gymnema sylvestre – also called gurmar or gudmar. In animal studies, an extract of the leaves repaired and regenerated pancreatic beta cells.
      Fenugreek (methi) – has also been shown to improve beta cell function and insulin production in diabetic rats.
      Nigella sativa – called black seed or kalonji. It has caused partial regeneration of beta-cells in animal studies and in a human trial also increased beta cell function.
      Curcumin (from turmeric) – has been shown to stimulate beta cell regeneration and preserve pancreatic islet cell survival.
      Berberine – extracted from herbs such as barberry and goldenseal, also induces beta cell regeneration in diabetic rats.
      In addition, a body compound called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) appears to be vital for the regeneration of beta-cells. You can boost GABA production by taking the nutrients L-glutamine, vitamin B6, taurine and zinc.
      I hope that you find this information helpful. Good luck and good health,
      Martin Hum

    • M.KUMARSWAMY says:

      Dear Aruna
      my daughter aged 12 years suffering from T 1 D for last three years….i was trying for permanent cure ….once i get any information regarding cure or regeneration of pancreas i would share with you …kindly do the same if u have any…….

    • Jenni Trumpa says:

      Aruna – Have you tried a High Fat / Low Carb diet? Get your hands on the book Diabetes Solution Dr. Bernstein. Our family is having GREAT success with it in regulating BSL in our T1D son.

  7. Martin Hum says:

    Dear Tom,
    Many thanks for your message. It is good to know that you are trying natural ways to improve your blood sugar control in type 1 diabetes and I would be interested to learn of your experience with herbs and nutrients.
    The sad fact is that these substances cannot be patented in the way that drugs can, so there is little money to be made from them as medicines and hence little incentive for the drugs companies to carry out expensive clinical trials with human patients. In the pharmaceutical industry, profits always seem to come before patients.
    Best regards,
    Martin Hum

  8. Tom Nash says:

    I am a forty nine year old male with type 1 diabetes, am physically active – I run marathons, coach football and table tennis – and monitor my blood glucose regularly day and night.

    i am very interested in the effects of the natural products you refer to in your articles, including Fenugreek, Gymnema Sylvestre, Maringa Oleifera, Pterocarpus Marsupium and all of the other foods and herbs I have read about over the years and which I do my best to take regularly.

    Because I don’t live in a laboratory, I am limited as to which of these foods and herbs I can consume in a normal working day.

    You refer repeatedly to the fact that little or no research has been carried out on humans, only mice: I represent a human who is very keen for the medical profession to discover what the effects of these foods are on humans, combined with other ‘lifestyle’ elements, including exercise and consumption of other foods and drinks: why so much talk and almost a hundred years after Bantam and Best’s work, do we know about the effects on mice and not humans ?

    I understand that the effects will vary between humans, meaning that there would be nothing that applied to all diabetics which the medical profession could announce as a result, but the same is true of injected insulin, which affects different diabetics in different ways.

    I am very interested to discuss this with you.


    Tom Nash