The findings – published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry – reveal the discovery of a ‘toggling’ process in which specific compounds are capable of regulating (turning on and off) each of the four starch-digesting enzymes (known as alpha-glucosidases) found in the human digestive system.
Led by Dr Mario Pinto of Purdue University, USA, the research team explained that the new knowledge could lead to food and supplement based solutions to help the control of blood glucose for people with diabetes or are prone to obesity.
"We wanted to determine whether we could control the release of glucose when starch is broken down in the body," said Pinto, whose work included characterising each of the four enzymes.
"Selectively inhibiting the enzymes offers the possibility of regulating and directing the release of glucose," he explained.
The researchers explained that in certain conditions people can be missing certain enzymes that help in the proper digestion of starches into sugars – leading to health problems.
Thanks to the new work, Pinto and his colleagues believe it may be possible to administer any one of the missing enzymes through medication or supplementation, in addition to possibly designing foods in ways allow them to be fully and properly broken down by the enzymes people do have.
Pinto said it may be possible develop new starches that will digest properly using the specific enzymes that people do have: "It's all about control and using the molecular information we have to control those enzymes," he says.
"This is a powerful piece of knowledge," Pinto added, noting that in the future it may be possible to control the exact delivery of glucose to different points in the small intestine using specifically designed foods and enzyme delivery systems.
Source: Journal of Biological Chemistry
Volume 287, Pages 31929-31938, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.351858
"Modulation of Starch Digestion for Slow Glucose Release through “Toggling” of Activities of Mucosal α-Glucosidases"
Authors: Byung-Hoo Lee, Razieh Eskandari, Kyra Jones,Kongara Ravinder Reddy