Normally, the muscles of the stomach, which are controlled by the vagus nerve, contract to break up food and move it through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. The movement of muscles in the GI tract, along with the release of hormones and enzymes, allows for the digestion of food. Gastroparesis is a symptomatic chronic debilitating disorder of the stomach, characterized by delayed gastric emptying of solid and semisolid foods. As a result of this condition, food stays in the stomach for a longer time than normal.
Diabetes is the most common known cause of gastroparesis. It affects 30–50% of patients with longstanding type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes have high levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar. Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage the vagus nerve. Although there is no cure for gastroparesis, new research from Italy published in the journal, Diabetes Care, suggests that a special kind of pasta may be of benefit to patients with gastroparesis.
For this study, ten patients with diabetes were enrolled into one of two groups. Five consumed one serving per day of pasta fortified with soybean isoflavones for 8 weeks. Soybean isoflavones are also commonly referred to as phytoestrogens. After not consuming any pasta for 4 weeks, the patients consumed a conventional pasta for 8 weeks. The other group of 5 patients consumed these pastas in reverse order. The two pastas were indistinguishable from one another.
The results showed that the gastric emptying time measured at the beginning of the study was longer than the upper limit of normal, confirming that the patients had gastroparesis. However, when consuming the isoflavone-fortified pasta, gastric emptying time was reduced from 161 minutes down to 112 minutes, a difference that was very statistically significant, indicating the results were unlikely to have occurred by chance.
The authors speculated that isoflavones, when in contact with lining of the stomach, affect hormone synthesis, which in turn, increases motility. They commented that the isoflavone-fortified pasta warrants consideration in the management of gastroparesis, especially given that there is currently no effective pharmacologic therapy. Unfortunately, the specific pasta used in this study is available only in Italy. With results like these, there is reason to think that the pasta will soon become more widely available.