Restoring Insulin Production In Type 2 Diabetes

| October 2, 2012

In people with type 2 diabetes, problems usually begin with insulin resistance, which prevents the hormone insulin from opening up the “cellular gateway” that lets glucose move from the bloodstream into the cells. This puts pressure on the pancreas to produce more and more insulin, as the body attempts to rectify the situation. Eventually though, insulin production drops or stops altogether, as the pancreas becomes “worn out” by its efforts.

Until now, the assumption has been that the pancreas stops producing insulin because the beta-cells, the specific cells in the pancreas that secrete this hormone, have died. New research has shown, however, that these vital cells have not been killed off but have simply reverted to a neutral (undifferentiated) state. In other words, they are no longer receiving the genetic information that tells them what their job is in the body.

The new study was carried out using specially-bred mice, at Columbia University Medical Centre in the United States1. It showed that a protein called FOXO1 is central to the function of pancreatic beta-cells and to their “disappearance” in type 2 diabetes. FOXO1 is a transcription factor, a protein that controls when genes are switched on or off. It is part of a set of pancreatic transcription factors that regulate every aspect of the development and functioning of the pancreas.

The researchers discovered that FOXO1 is necessary to maintain the identity of beta cells. Under the metabolic stress of insulin resistance, beta cells gradually become depleted in FOXO1 and start to change into a neutral state, in which they are no longer capable of producing insulin, probably as a self-protective mechanism.

As Professor Domenico Accili, who led the research, explained, “Currently, we give patients medications that force beta cells to work even harder. But it’s like flogging a dying horse. You can push beta cells only so far. Our findings would suggest that treatment should begin by giving beta cells a rest, by administering insulin.” This exciting new research opens up the possibility that the process is reversible and that beta-cells could be given back their identity and function by re-establishing the activity of FOXO.

Why insulin-promoting medications are best avoided

I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Accili that medications that aim to make a failing pancreas produce more insulin are a waste of time. Much worse than that, they could increase your risks of pancreatitis (severe, life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas) and pancreatic cancer, according to recent research. Even the most common side effects of digestive upsets, nausea, faintness, tremor and weight gain are best avoided.

I also agree that giving the pancreas a rest is essential, but I cannot subscribe to Professor Accili’s view that administering insulin is the best way to do this. In certain cases, insulin may be medically essential, but in my experience the vast majority of type 2 diabetes patients can control their blood sugar levels perfectly well by following a low glycaemic load diet and the other measures that I summarised in Real Diabetes Truth on 8th August 2012.

The unnecessary administration of insulin, leading to an excess of the hormone in your system, pushes up your cholesterol level and blood pressure, damages your arteries and promotes weight gain. People who inject insulin also have a significantly higher risk of cancer, although the reason for this is unclear.

Certain herbal remedies could have the ability to coax beta-cells out of the neutral state they have reverted to and get them producing insulin again. Further research is needed to reveal the mechanisms involved, but the initial signs are encouraging.

Gymnema, fenugreek and Pterocarpus marsupium are herbs that have been used for centuries in India as traditional remedies for diabetes. An extract of gymnema has been found to significantly regenerate beta-cells in diabetic rats. Fenugreek contains an amino acid called 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which may stimulate the secretion of insulin. In animal studies, fenugreek oil not only increased insulin production but also protected beta-cells from oxidative damage.

An extract of the bark of the Indian Kino Tree, Pterocarpus marsupium, has been shown to have a regenerative effect on the pancreatic beta cells. In animal experiments, an extract of the hardwood had potent antidiabetic effects, by both stimulating insulin production and acting in the same way as insulin in allowing glucose to enter muscle cells.

At present, the only medically approved way of restoring insulin levels in people whose beta-cells have stopped producing it is by injection of one of the commercially available insulin preparations. But the race has been on between the drugs companies to produce a form of insulin that can be taken by mouth, as a tablet. I’ll bring you up to date with developments and give you my own take on the subject in my next blog post.

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. Talchai C, Xuan S, Lin HV, Sussel L, Accili D. Pancreatic ß-cell dedifferentiation as a mechanism of diabetic ß-cell failure. Cell. 2012; 150(6):1223.

2. Elashoff M, Matveyenko AV, Gier B, Elashoff R, Butler PC. Pancreatitis, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer with glucagon-like peptide-1–based therapies. Gastroenterology. 2011; 141(1):150–156.

3. Ahmed AB, Rao AS, Rao MV. In vitro callus and in vivo leaf extract of Gymnema sylvestre stimulate ß-cells regeneration and anti-diabetic activity in Wistar rats. Phytomedicine. 2010; 17(13):1033-1039.

4. Hamden K, Masmoudi H, Carreau S, Elfeki A. Immunomodulatory, beta-cell, and neuroprotective actions of fenugreek oil from alloxan-induced diabetes. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2010; 32(3):437-445.

5. Chakravarthy BK, Saroj G, Gambhir SS, Gode KD. Pancreatic beta cell regeneration – a novel antidiabetic mechanism of Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb. India J Pharmacol. 1980; 12:123-127.

6. Mohankumar SK, O’Shea T, McFarlane JR. Insulinotrophic and insulin-like effects of a high molecular weight aqueous extract of Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb. hardwood. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012; 141(1):72-79.

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Category: Diabetes

Comments (2)

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. Marina says:

    Thanks for a very useful article. I’m going to recommend this blog to a few friends who I think can benefit from reading your stuff.

  2. Shirin Ahmed says:

    Hello Martin Hum. My name is Shirin Ahmed & I am from Australia. I have read about your comments on type 2 diabetic(insulin resistance), this is he type of diabetes that I am suffering from. Dr. wants me to go
    on insulin but I am not getting assurance for getting better by insulin. Today, you have written about Foxo1,I do not know anything about this matter, it is said that this injection can reverse the dead beta cell to regenerate. I am interested in this process.
    Let me know about the research result of Foxox1.Thank you. Shirin