It’s no secret that diabetes can lead to all sorts of health complications, including nerve damage, skin infections and eye complications. And people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke.
But diabetes is perhaps hardest on the kidneys. About a quarter of diabetes sufferers will eventually develop a condition called diabetic nephropathy, which causes a gradual loss of kidney function and eventually lead to dialysis. Diabetic nephropathy is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease in the U.S. and is linked with an elevated risk of heart disease. And there is currently no cure for the condition.
Researchers have been studying ways to address kidney issues in diabetics, and they may have found a solution in the plant kingdom…
The PEITC-kidney connection
A study in rats indicates a substance responsible for giving certain cruciferous vegetables their sharp, strong taste could help reverse diabetes-associated kidney problems.
For the study, researchers analyzed the effects of phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) in rats with diabetic nephropathy. Lead study author Dr. Mohamed El-Sherbiny, a postdoctoral fellow at Almaarefa University in Saudi Arabia, says they found evidence that PEITC manages kidney injury associated with diabetes by targeting multiple interconnected pathways involved in diabetic nephropathy, including inflammation, glycation and oxidative status.
“Our study provides, for the first time, evidence that PEITC might be effective as a naturally occurring agent to reverse serious kidney damage in people with diabetes,” Dr. El-Sherbiny says.
Vegetables containing PEITC include watercress, broccoli, turnips and radishes, with watercress having the highest concentration.
Previous studies of another compound in cruciferous vegetables, sulforaphane, show it also helps reduce kidney damage associated with diabetes. The PEITC study strengthens the evidence that eating more vegetables containing these compounds could help people with diabetes head off kidney problems.
Because the research was conducted in animal models, researchers say further studies are needed to confirm the findings and determine how the PEITC results might inform new treatments or dietary recommendations for diabetics.
Best ways to promote good kidney health
The best way to ensure you’re getting the full protective benefits of the PEITC contained in cruciferous vegetables is to eat them raw. Cooking these vegetables can reduce the amount of PEITC and other health-supporting compounds.
The best way to ensure good kidney health is to keep yourself from developing diabetes — or if you already have diabetes, to manage it carefully. Try to get enough exercise and watch your diet, particularly when it comes to added sugars and highly processed foods.
There are other steps you can take to protect your kidneys. We’ve written before about how vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, can help slow and potentially reverse kidney damage in its earlier stages. You can either take a thiamine supplement or add the following thiamine-rich foods to your diet: brewer’s yeast, cereal and grains, tuna, pork, poultry, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and Brussels sprouts.
Another tip is to make sure you drink enough water every day to help your kidneys work smoothly. And be careful when using certain pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which can injure your kidneys.
As far as supplements go, moringa has shown potential in preventing kidney dysfunction by lowering blood levels of waste products like urea and creatinine. And resveratrol may protect against kidney injury caused by drugs, diabetic nephropathy and elevated uric acid levels.
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Diabetes Overview: Complications — American Diabetes Association
Phenethyl Isothiocyanate: A comprehensive review of anti-cancer mechanisms — Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Cancer