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Natural Compound Helps Reverse Diabetes

Researchers at Washington University have restored normal blood sugar metabolism in diabetic mice using a compound the body makes naturally. The finding suggests that it may one day be possible for people to take the compound much like a daily vitamin as a way to treat or even prevent type 2 diabetes.

The compound, called nicotinamide mononucleotide, or NMN, plays a vital role in how cells use energy.

“After giving NMN, glucose tolerance goes completely back to normal in female diabetic mice,” says developmental biologist Shin-ichiro Imai, MD, PhD. “In males, we see a milder effect compared to females, but we still see an effect. These are really remarkable results. NMN improves diabetic symptoms, at least in mice.”

The researched appeared online Oct. 4, 2011, in Cell Metabolism.

Imai says this discovery holds promise for people because the mechanisms that NMN influences are largely the same in mice and humans. “But whether this mechanism is equally compromised in human patients with type 2 diabetes is something we have to check,” Imai says. “We have plans to do this in the very near future.”

All cells in the body make NMN in a chain of reactions leading to production of NAD, a vital molecule that harvests energy from nutrients and puts it into a form cells can use. Among other things, NAD activates a protein called SIRT1 that has been shown to promote healthy metabolism.


Researchers (from left) Shin-ichiro Imai, MD, PhD; Jun Yoshino, MD, PhD; and Kathryn Mills showed a natural compound, NMN, helps treat symptoms of diabetes in mice.


According to the study, aging and eating a high-fat diet reduce production of NMN, slowing the body’s production of NAD and leading to abnormal metabolic conditions such as diabetes. NAD cannot be given to the mice directly because of toxic effects. But after administering NMN, levels of NAD rise and the diabetic mice show dramatically improved responses to glucose. In some cases, they return to normal.

“I’m very excited to see these results because the effect of NMN is much bigger than other known compounds or chemicals,” says first author Jun Yoshino, MD, PhD. “Plus, the fact that the body naturally makes NMN is promising for translating these findings into humans.”

Watch a video about this research here.

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