Antioxidants protect against type II diabetes

A diet rich in antioxidants is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. And among the most protective foods, fruits, vegetables and teas particularly stand out.

In a study published in the journal Diabetologia, an Inserm team (Generations and Health Team, Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, Villejuif) once again shows the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

If we already knew that a diet rich in plants is associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases, we can now think that type 2 diabetes is also part of their virtues.

Protective antioxidants

The team of scientists already suspected this link, since studies have previously shown that certain antioxidants such as vitamin E or vitamin C, lycopene or even flavonoids were associated with a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes. But this work always focused on individual nutrients and never on the total antioxidant capacity of the diet. It is therefore the diet as a whole, according to its antioxidant power, which has been evaluated here in relation to the risk of diabetes. The authors followed 64,223 French women from the E3N cohort (now called e4n), recruited from 1990, then aged 40 to 65, between 1993 and 2008. They were all free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease at the time. their inclusion in the study.

A food questionnaire of more than 200 foods was completed at the start of the study, to determine consumption habits. An antioxidant score was evaluated on the basis of Italian data, indicating the antioxidant power of a large number of foods. They then analyzed the links between these scores and the risk of developing diabetes during follow-up. Their results show that the risk of diabetes decreases with the level of antioxidant consumption, up to a threshold of 15 mmol/day, which corresponds for example to diets rich in dark chocolate, tea, nuts, prunes, blueberries, strawberry, hazelnut, etc. Beyond this threshold, the risk no longer decreases.

A risk of diabetes reduced by 27%

Women with the highest antioxidant scores had a 27% reduced risk of diabetes, compared to those with the lowest scores. This link persists after taking into account the other main risk factors for type 2 diabetes: smoking, level of education, hypertension, high cholesterol, family history of diabetes and especially body mass index, comments Francesca Romana Mancini, first author of these jobs.

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The foods most contributory to a high antioxidant score were fruits and vegetables, tea, and red wine (consumed in moderate amounts). It remains to understand why this protective effect exists.

We know that antioxidants prevent the formation of cell-damaging free radicals and limit their harmful effects when they are present, but there is probably a more specific action such as an effect on the sensitivity of cells to insulin. “This remains to be confirmed in other studies”, concludes Francesca Romana Mancini.


Mancini FR et al. Dietary antioxidant capacity and risk of type 2 diabetes in the large prospective E3N-EPIC cohort Diabetologia.


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