Unlocking the natural mechanisms of diabetes treatment

Lausanne, Switzerland 29th August 2018. More than 400 million people worldwide are today living with diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately 90% have type 2 diabetes, mainly due to excess body weight and the lack of physical activity. Although type 2 diabetes typically occurs in adults, it is becoming increasingly common in children.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not use the hormone insulin properly so it makes more of it. Eventually the body cannot keep up, resulting in a rise in blood sugar levels.

The most common drug to lower blood-sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients is metformin. It is originally derived from the plant Galega officinalis (also known as goat’s rue or French lilac). The plant is rich in galegine, a substance that aids in lowering blood sugar. Despite its clinical use for 60 years, the precise mechanism of action for the drug remains unclear.

Nestlé Research scientists, along with academics from Vanderbilt University, USA and Aarhus University, Denmark, made an important scientific discovery by identifying a key mechanism of action for metformin.  The Nestlé research published in Nature Medicine found that metformin works by inducing mild energy stress in the liver, leading to an increase of a chemical compound known as cellular adenosine monophosphate (AMP), which in turn triggers the inhibition of fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase (FBP1), a key enzyme for controlling glucose production.

The scientists propose that through this mechanism, “it would be possible to mimic the effect of metformin with natural substances. This hypothesis is backed by the apparent glucose-lowering effect of many biologically active metabolites identified in traditional Chinese medicine and edible natural products.” says Kei Sakamoto, head of Metabolic Health at Nestlé Research.

These findings are important as they could be applied in the development of plant-based therapies for lowering blood glucose levels.

About NIHS:

NIHS is a biomedical research institute, part of Nestlé’s global R&D network, dedicated to fundamental research aimed at understanding health and disease and developing science-based, targeted nutritional solutions for the maintenance of health. To achieve its aim, NIHS employs state-of-the-art technologies and biological models to characterise health and disease with a holistic and integrated approach. The ultimate goal of the Institute is to develop knowledge that can empower people to better maintain their health through nutritional approaches, especially in relation to their molecular profile and lifestyle status.


Hunter R , Hughey C, Lantier L , Sundelin E,  Peggie M, Zeqiraj E,  Sicheri F, Jessen N,  Wasserman D and Sakamoto K. (2018).  Metformin reduces liver glucose production by inhibition of fructose-1-6-bisphosphatase. Nature Medicine. (2018)

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Also see what Nestlé is doing to tackle obesity

For enquiries, please contact:
Laura Camurri, Communications, NIHS

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