Cashew seed extract may play an important role in preventing and treating diabetes, new research suggests.

Scientists at the University of Montreal and the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon studied how cashew products affected the responses of rat liver cells to insulin. They looked at cashew tree leaves, bark, seeds and apples. 

They found that only the cashew seed extract increased the absorption of blood sugar by the cells.

"Extracts of other plant parts had no such effect, indicating that cashew seed extract likely contains active compounds, which can have potential anti-diabetic properties," senior author Pierre Haddad, a pharmacology professor at the University of Montreal's Faculty of Medicine, said in a release.

"These results collectively suggest that cashew seed extract may be a potential anti-diabetic nutraceutical, the study reads.

In some people with diabetes, a condition called insulin resistance prevents the body from processing the hormone, which regulates energy and the processing of sugars in the body. Lack of insulin can lead to heart or kidney diseases over time.

In Canada, more than three million Canadians have diabetes and this number is expected to reach 3.7 million by 2020, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.

The study is published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.