Cherries may one day be part of diabetes treatment. The sweet and tart versions of the fruit contain chemicals that boost insulin (search), which helps control blood sugar levels.

The chemicals are called anthocyanins (search). They occur naturally in cherries, giving them their bright red color. Anthocyanins also tint other fruits, vegetables, and flowers with bright reds, blues, and purples. Fruit containing the chemicals has shown promise in reducing heart disease risk.

The same might also be true for diabetes. Michigan State University researchers recently isolated several anthocyanins from cherries, testing them on insulin-producing pancreatic cells taken from rodents.

The cells pumped up their insulin production by 50 percent when exposed to the anthocyanins. In one case, insulin production nearly doubled when exposed to the most active anthocyanin.

That’s promising, but anthocyanins need to be tested on animals and humans before they’re recommended for diabetes treatment. “We’re excited with the laboratory results so far, but more studies are needed,” says researcher Muralee Nair, PhD, in a news release.

More than just cherries are loaded with anthocyanins. The chemicals are also found in red grapes, strawberries, blueberries, vegetables, and wine, cider, and tea. However, the biggest insulin effects seem to come from the type of anthocyanins found in cherries.

One day, anthocyanins might be the building block for new diabetes treatments. Meanwhile, don’t rely on cherries to control insulin problems. But since anthocyanins aren’t toxic to humans, there’s no harm in eating cherries as part of a healthy diet.

The study is scheduled to appear in the Jan. 5 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Jayaprakasam, B., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Jan. 5, 2005. News release, American Chemical Society.