Liquorice Root Found to Contain Anti-Diabetic Substance
ScienceDaily (Apr. 17, 2012) — Researchers have discovered a promising anti-diabetic substance in the amorfrutin class of natural substances.

It provides the raw material for liquorice candy, calms the stomach and alleviates diseases of the airways: liquorice root. Chosen as the "Medicinal plant 2012," the root has been treasured in traditional healing since ancient times. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have now discovered that liquorice root also contains substances with an anti-diabetic effect. These amorfrutins not only reduce blood sugar, they are also anti-inflammatory and are very well tolerated. Thus, they may be suitable for use in the treatment of complex metabolic disorders.
Natural substances have a surprising and often largely unexploited potential in the prevention and treatment of common diseases. For example, liquorice root Glycyrrhiza contains different substances that help to alleviate disorders of the airways and digestive system. It has been used for millennia in traditional healing and is mainly administered in the form of tea. A team of researchers working with Sascha Sauer from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin has now discovered that the plant from the papilionaceae or leguminous family might also be effective in the treatment of adult (type 2) diabetes. The scientists identified a group of natural substances with an anti-diabetic effect, the amorfrutins, in the plant's edible root.
The substances, which have a simple chemical structure, are not only found in liquorice root, but are also in the fruit of the Amorpha fruticosa bush. The new anti-diabetic agents were named after this plant, which is native to the US, Canada and Mexico. As the researchers demonstrated using diabetic mice, the amorfrutins not only have characteristics that reduce blood sugar, they are also anti-inflammatory in their effect. Moreover, they also prevent fatty liver -- a common disease caused by excessively fat-rich nutrition.
"The health-beneficial effects are based on the fact that the amorfrutin molecules dock directly onto a receptor in the nucleus called PPARγ," explains Sascha Sauer. PPARγ plays an important role in the cell's fat and glucose metabolism. The binding of the amorfrutin molecules activates various genes that reduce the plasma concentration of certain fatty acids and glucose. The reduced glucose level prevents the development of insulin resistance -- the main cause of adult diabetes.
"Although there are already drugs on the market that affect the PPARγ receptor, they are not selective enough in their effect and cause side effects like weight gain and cardio-vascular problems," says Sascha Sauer. In contrast, as demonstrated by the studies carried out to date, the amorfrutins are very well tolerated. "However, drinking liquorice tea or eating liquorice will not help to treat diabetes," explains the scientist. "The concentration of the substances in the tea and liquorice is far too low to be effective." The researchers therefore developed special extraction processes to obtain the amorfrutins from the plant in sufficient concentrations. This could be used to produce amorfrutin extracts on an industrial scale.
The newly discovered active substances not only seem to hold great promise for the treatment of complex metabolic disorders, they may also be suitable for prophylactic use. "The amorfrutins can be used as functional nutritional supplements or as mild remedies that are individually tailored to the patient," says Sascha Sauer. "In view of the rapid spread of metabolic diseases like diabetes, it is intended to develop these substances further so that they can be used on humans in the future." To do this, the researchers must now test the effect of the substances and the plant amorfrutin extracts in clinical studies on diabetes patients.

Journal Reference:
C. Weidner, J. C. de Groot, A. Prasad, A. Freiwald, C. Quedenau, M. Kliem, A. Witzke, V. Kodelja, C.-T. Han, S. Giegold, M. Baumann, B. Klebl, K. Siems, L. Muller-Kuhrt, A. Schurmann, R. Schuler, A. F. H. Pfeiffer, F. C. Schroeder, K. Bussow, S. Sauer. Amorfrutins are potent antidiabetic dietary natural products. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1116971109

Biochim Biophys Acta. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 October 1.
Published in final edited form as:
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 October; 1790(10): 1133–1138.
Published online 2009 February 10. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.02.002. PMCID: PMC2829866

Modulating Human Aging and Age-Associated Diseases

Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D.
Luigi Fontana, Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science and Center for Human Nutrition, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA and the Division of Nutrition and Aging, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy;


Population aging is progressing rapidly in many industrialized countries. The United States population aged 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years. In sedentary people eating Western diets aging is associated with the development of serious chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. About 80 percent of adults over 65 years of age have at least one chronic disease, and 50 percent have at least two chronic diseases. These chronic diseases are the most important cause of illness and mortality burden, and they have become the leading driver of healthcare costs, constituting an important burden for our society. Data from epidemiological studies and clinical trials indicate that many age-associated chronic diseases can be prevented, and even reversed, with the implementation of healthy lifestyle interventions. Several recent studies suggest that more drastic interventions (i.e. calorie restriction without malnutrition and moderate protein restriction with adequate nutrition) may have additional beneficial effects on several metabolic and hormonal factors that are implicated in the biology of aging itself. Additional studies are needed to understand the complex interactions of factors that regulate aging and age-associated chronic disease.