The pancreas is a glandular organ in the digestive system located in the abdominal cavity behind the stomach. It serves as an endocrine gland producing several important hormones that circulate in the blood, including:
- insulin (important in the metabolism of glucose)
- pancreatic polypeptide
The pancreas also secretes pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.
Figure 1. Location of the pancreas (Source)
The region of the pancreas that contain its endocrine (hormone producing) cells is called the pancreatic islets or islets of Langerhans. The pancreatic islets constitute 1 to 2% of the pancreas volume and receive 10–15% of its blood flow.
Figure 2. Islets of Langerhans (Source)
A type of cell found in the pancreatic islets are Beta cells. They make up 65-80% of the cells in the islets. The primary function of a beta cell is to store and release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that brings about effects which reduce blood glucose concentration.
Figure 3. Beta-cells of the pancreas (Source)
The functions of the beta cells can become compromised with insulin resistance and the pathogenesis of diabetes. Beta cell dysfunction results from inadequate glucose sensing to stimulate insulin secretion and therefore elevated glucose concentrations prevail.
Persistently elevated glucose concentrations above the physiological range result in the manifestation of hyperglycemia. With systemic insulin resistance, insulin signaling within glucose recipient tissues is defective therefore hyperglycemia perseveres.
Figure 4. Potential mechanism of beta-cell failure (Source)
Beta cell dysfunction supersedes insulin resistance in inducing diabetes. Both pathological states influence each other and presumably synergistically exacerbate diabetes.
Preserving beta cell function and insulin signaling in beta cells and insulin signaling in the glucose recipient tissues will maintain glucose homeostasis. 1
Plant-derived Natural Compounds that Inhance the Functionality of Pancreatic Beta Cells
There is a wide selection of published data on the effects of various plant-derived natural compounds on the functionality of pancreatic beta cells. These natural compounds have been found to directly:
- enhance insulin secretion
- prevent pancreatic beta cell apoptosis
- modulate pancreatic beta cell differentiation and proliferation
- regenerate pancreatic beta cells
Certain bio-active compounds of plants have confirmed anti-diabetic properties. Table 1 below lists these botanical plants and their active compounds:
Table 1: Biological functions of plants (bio-active compounds) with confirmed anti-diabetic properties.
|Anoectochilus roxburghii||Kinsenoside||Increases pancreatic beta cell regeneration|||
|Increases insulin production
|Camellia sinensis||Epigallocatechin-3-gallate||Enhances insulin secretion
Inhibits pancreatic beta
|Capsicum annuum||Capsaicin||Enhances insulin secretion||[17–19]|
|Carica papaya||Flavonoids/alkaloids/saponin/tannins||Enhances insulin secretion||[20, 21]|
|Curcuma longa||Curcumin||Enhances insulin secretion||[71–77]|
|Ervatamia microphylla||Conophylline||Induces differentiation into insulin producing
|Glycine max||Genistein||Enhances insulin secretion
Inhibits pancreatic beta
|Gymnema sylvestre||Gymnemic acids||Enhances insulin secretion||[22–32]|
|Momordica charantia||Momordicin||Increases pancreatic beta cell regeneration||[33–43]|
|Nymphaea stellate||Nymphayol||Enhances insulin secretion||[44–46]|
|Panax ginseng||Ginsenoside||Enhances insulin secretion
|Rhizoma coptidis||Berberine||Enhances insulin secretion||[58–63]|
|Silybum marianum||Silymarin||Inhibits pancreatic beta cell apoptosis||[113–118]|
|Commonly found in plants||Resveratrol||Inhibits pancreatic beta cell apoptosis||[106–112]|
|Commonly found in plants||Quercetin||Enhances insulin secretion
Inhibits pancreatic beta
Figure 5. Biological functions of plants (bioactive compounds) with confirmed antidiabetic properties (Source) (Click on image to enlarge)
Gymnema sylvestre increases pancreatic beta cell regeneration and insulin secretion
Gymnema sylvestre (G. sylvestre) has traditionally been used to treat diabetes in India for centuries and has been an integral part of Ayruvedic medicine.
Figure 6. Gymnema sylvestre plant and flowers
The bio-active compound of G. sylvestre are triterpenoid saponins. The main triterpenoid saponin is gymnemic acids and are considered to be the active compounds responsible for the anti-diabetic effects of G. sylvestre.
G. sylvestre extract is known to stimulate insulin secretion in various pancreatic beta cell lines. It also has showed hypoglycemic effects via the increase in pancreatic beta cell regeneration and insulin secretion.
The many antidiabetic effects of G. sylvestre include:
- Decreased plasma glucose levels and significantly induced insulin secretion compared with that in control mice. 2
- Lowered blood glucose levels through the regeneration of pancreatic beta cells. 3
- Lowered blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes patients by increasing insulin secretion. 4
- Induced significant increases in circulating insulin and C-peptide concomitant with a significant reduction in blood glucose levels. 5
- Blood glucose homeostasis through increased serum insulin levels provided by repair/regeneration of the pancreas. 6