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Influence of two plant products (red palm oil and rooibos) on streptozotocin-induced hyperglycaemia and its implications on antioxidant status and other biochemical parameters in an animal model
Diabetes mellitus is a major health problem not only in urban, but also in the rural areas and is diagnosed by the presence of high glucose levels in the blood. Oxidative stress is known to be actively involved in the onset and progression of diabetes and its complications. Antioxidants have important roles in biological systems by scavenging free radicals which may result in oxidative damage of biological molecules such as lipids, proteins and DNA. Red palm oil, originally from the tropical area of Africa, generally consumed as cooking oil, is known to have some beneficial health effects due to the presence of lipid soluble antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocopherols and tocotrienols. It also contains almost an equal proportion of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids which makes it distinctive from other vegetable oils. Rooibos, on the other hand, is grown in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape in South Africa and it is commonly consumed as a beverage. It contains a complex profile of water soluble antioxidants (flavonoids) and its health promoting potentials have been reported extensively. Some of the flavonoids present in rooibos include aspalathin, nothofagin, quercetin, rutin and orientin. The objective of this research project was to examine the potential beneficial effects of the dietary intake of red palm oil and rooibos on streptozotocin-induced hyperglycaemia and its influence on the antioxidant status and some biochemical parameters in male Wistar rats. The preliminary phase of this study was designed to investigate the biochemical effects of these two plant products at different dosages following consumption for a period of 7 weeks. The preliminary study did not reveal any adverse effects of the different dosages of red palm oil (1 ml, 2 ml and 4 ml) and rooibos (2%, 4% and 6%) on the experimental rats following dietary intake for 7 weeks. However, these natural products showed an improvement in the antioxidant status of the rats at the different doses. Using a single dose each of both plant products from the preliminary study, the main study was performed to investigate the influence of these two plant products singly and in combination on the blood and liver of streptozotocin-induced hyperglycaemic male Wistar rats. In the main study, streptozotocin (50 mg/kg) dissolved in 0.1 M citrate buffer (pH 4.5) through intramuscular injection was used for the induction of diabetes which was confirmed by the presence of high blood glucose after 72 hours. Red palm oil or rooibos extract alone did not have any effect on the control of blood glucose in the diabetic rats. The dietary intake of the combined treatment with red palm and rooibos had more health promoting effects on the diabetic rats which included a decrease in blood glucose, glycosylated haemoglobin, fructosamine and increased insulin levels. There was a marked increase in liver glycogen levels in all the diabetic groups. Treatment with rooibos alone showed a decrease in glycogen levels in the diabetic rats. The presence of liver enzymes in the serum, commonly used as indicators of liver damage was increased in all the diabetic rats. However, the combined treatment of diabetic rats with red palm oil and rooibos protected the liver from injury. Red palm oil improved high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (HDL-cholesterol) in the diabetic rats. There was no effect on the activity of glucokinase, the first enzyme in the the glycolytic pathway in both the untreated and treated diabetic rats. However, the activity of pyruvate kinase, the last enzyme in the glycolytic pathway was reduced in all the diabetic groups. The combined treatment with both red palm and rooibos increased the activity of pyruvate kinase. Oxidative stress was confirmed in the diabetic rats with an increase in the plasma thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), an indicator of lipid peroxidation. Treatment of diabetic rats with rooibos and the combination of red palm oil and rooibos brought plasma TBARS to a level that was not significantly different from the normal control group. There was a non-significant reduction of total glutathione in the non-treated and treated diabetic groups. A non-significant increase in the activity of liver catalase was observed in all the treated diabetic groups. The activity of superoxide dismutase was significantly decreased in the liver of diabetic rats. Diabetic rats treated with red palm oil, rooibos and the combined treatment showed an increased activity of superoxide dismutase in the liver. Red palm oil and the combined treatment increased the activity of glutathione peroxidase in both the red blood cells and liver of diabetic rats. Red palm oil, rooibos and their combined treatments also improved the plasma antioxidant capacity such as ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP) and oxygen reducing absorbance capacity (ORAC) in the diabetic rats. In conclusion, oxidative stress is actively involved in the progression of diabetes mellitus. Red palm oil and rooibos, most especially their combined treatment showed significant beneficial health promoting effects in the diabetic rats. The remarkable effects of the combined treatment of red palm oil and rooibos in the diabetic rats could be due to their antioxidant profiles. Based on the findings from this study, it can be adduced that these plant products could help in the management of diabetes and its complications and therefore, suggested the need for further research studies on antioxidant therapy in the management of diabetes mellitus.