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July 20, 2023

Dahlia flower holds powerful extract that helps treat and prevent diabetes

Molecules found in the petals can regulate blood sugar by reducing brain inflammation, researchers say.

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Dahlia Diabetes Treatment Timo C. Dinger/

The petals of dahlias contain a flavonoid called butein and other molecules that scientists say are useful in reducing brain inflammation and managing high blood sugar. An extract from the flower could be used medicinally to treat people with diabetes and prediabetes.

More than 37 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes and another 96 million Americans have prediabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels are too high and lifestyle changes should be made to prevent the onset of more serious disease.

In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, the body does not properly use insulin to control blood sugar. As diabetes progresses, it can lead to other serious long-term health problems like heart disease, vision loss, nerve damage and kidney disease. High blood sugar, called hyperglycemia, also impacts energy levels and mood.

Most people with diabetes must take injectable insulin or another oral medication to keep the condition under control. Researchers have long searched for other potential treatments that can lessen the severity of the disease.

New research shows that the petals of dahlia flowers — native to Mexico and Central America and a colorful favorite among gardeners — contain an extract that can help stabilize blood sugar levels. The extract could be used to regulate blood sugar for diabetes patients and as an early intervention in people with prediabetes. 

A study led by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand looked at the effects of butein, a molecule found in dahlia petals that can reduce brain inflammation. 

Although insulin resistance is most often associated with hormonal deficiencies in the pancreas, there has been growing scientific interest in how the brain works to support blood sugar balance. Since the researchers previously had linked brain inflammation to metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes, they wanted to test whether controlling that inflammation with butein could help regulate blood sugar.

The research began in 2015 and gained momentum after a dahlia extract showed promise in mice. The extract contained three compounds — butein, isoliquiritigenin and sulfuretin — that reduced inflammation in the mice's brains.

"This specifically blocked brain inflammation and improved blood sugar regulation in preclinical trials," said Alexander Tups, one author of the study.

Next, a clinical trial involving 13 people with diabetes and prediabetes showed the dahlia extract was effective at managing blood sugar.

The benefit of a natural source like a flower is that the molecules that enhance its anti-inflammatory effects can be cultivated for extraction.

“As scientists, often our work finishes when we find the mechanism of how something works. So in this case finding three compounds that occur in a flower that in combination improved blood sugar regulation was a dream come true," Tups said. "Impaired blood sugar regulation is a debilitating condition affecting millions of people around the world. I hope and I really believe that the outcome of our intensive research will benefit people suffering from this condition.”

Tups told Medical News Today that the extract's ability to improve brain function could potentially make it valuable in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and long COVID.

The petals and tubers of organically grown dahlias are thought to have a number of medicinal benefits. In addition to their antibiotic properties, tubers are considered a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, riboflavin, manganese and copper.

The research team in New Zealand has since patented their extract and developed a tablet called Dahlia4 that's sold as a natural compound for glucose support. The tablet has not yet been evaluated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

“The product provides a unique blend of nutritional compounds to support normal blood sugar and insulin levels," said Graham Strong, who collaborated with the research team to develop the tablet. "The trials showed that this will be useful for those diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes to help stop the progression of the condition."

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