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Journal of Drug Delivery and Therapeutics

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Open Access  Full Text Article                                                                                                                                           Review Article 

Mechanisms of Action of Flavonoids in the Management of Diabetes mellitus

Namrata Jain1S. Chandra Mohan1,2*, S. Sumathi3

Department of Chemistry,   Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan University, NH-12, Hoshangabad Road, Jatkhedi, Bhopal- 462026, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Division of Phytochemistry, Shanmuga Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, Thanjavur-613007, Tamil Nadu, India

Department of Chemistry, Kunthavai Naacchyiaar Government Arts College for Women (Affiliated to Bharathidasan University), Thanjavur-613007, Tamil Nadu, India

Article Info:


Article History:

Received 18 August 2021      

Reviewed 30 September 2021

Accepted 08 October 2021  

Published 15 October 2021  


Cite this article as: 

Jain N, Chandra Mohan S, Sumathi S, Mechanisms of Action of Flavonoids in the Management of  Diabetes mellitus, Journal of Drug Delivery and Therapeutics. 2021; 11(5-S):194-202

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22270/jddt.v11i5-S.5101         


*Address for Correspondence:  

S. Chandra Mohan,

Department of Chemistry, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan University, NH-12, Hoshangabad Road, Jatkhedi, Bhopal- 462026, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Division of Phytochemistry, Shanmuga Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, Thanjavur-613007, Tamil Nadu, India



Management of diabetes mellitus is a challenge for clinicians. Uncontrolled hyperglycemia increases the risk of microvascular and macrovascular complications, damaging the body systems.  Although a number of antidiabetic drugs are available for therapeutic intervention, toxicity, loss of efficacy in chronic use and high cost of treatment have necessitated the search for new molecules to manage diabetes. Safety and cost are the main prerequisite for the new antidiabetic molecules. Medicinal plants and their purified phytochemicals have shown promising antidiabetic potential in the past few years. The flavonoids can be widely classified into different categories like anthocyanins, catechins, flavanols, flavones, flavanones etc. Some flavonoids have hypoglycemic properties. They may improve al-tered glucose and oxidative metabolisms of diabetic states. The hypoglycemic effect of some herbal extracts has been confirmed in human and animal models of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Some of the important phytoconstituents from the classes of flavonoid have been discussed here. The current review summarizes the  antidiabetic activity of flavonoids, the mechanism-based action of flavonoids that target the various metabolic pathways in humans.

Keywords: Diabetes mellitus, Flavonoids, Medicinal plants, mechanisms of action, T2DM 

*Corresponding author: cm_123ss@yahoo.co.in



DM is a metabolic disorder characterized by chronic hyperglycemia together with disturbances in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fat, which in general results from an insulin availability and need imbalance1-4. DM can be manifested as type 1 (T1DM), or type 2 (T2DM)5,6. T2DM is the most common presentation of DM, resulting from both cell dysfunction (with altered insulin levels) and impaired insulin action (insulin resistance)6-8. Management of Diabetes mellitus  employs modifications  of diet, change of lifestyle, intake of oral hypoglycemic,  administration of exogenous insulin and herbal  remedies9. Synthetic drugs are fraught with adverse side effects10,11. Natural products such as plants and herbs have the capacity to reduce blood glucose values and ameliorate diabetes with reduced adverse side effects. They achieve this owing to the presence of phytochemicals such as flavonoids, saponins, alkaloids, tannins, glycosides, terpenes etc. The aim of this review is to highlight the importance of flavonoids in the management of D. mellitus. The mechanisms by which these active principles of flavonoids origin bring about their effects are also discussed. 


Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites  that constitute a family of soluble polyphenolic  compounds. They are made up of two benzene rings  attached by a short three carbon chain12. Flavonoids  that occur in nature are classified into six classes  namely: anthocyanidins (e.g. cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, peonidin, petunidin etc), flavan-3-ols (e.g. catechin, epicatechin, gallocatechin etc), flavonols (isorhamnetin, kaempferol, myricetin, quercetin), flavones (e.g. apigenin, luteolin, baicalein, chrysin), flavanones (eriodictyol, hesperetin, naringenin) and isoflavones (daidzein, genistein, glycitein, biochanin A)12,13. The anti-diabetic properties of flavonoids are attributed partly to their antioxidant potentials and partly due to their ability to modulate some cell signalling. Dietary flavonoids occur in fruits, vegetables, beverages, chocolates, herbs and plants14,15. The following flavonoids isolated from plants have been shown to possess anti-diabetic properties. 

(a) Diosmin

Diosmin is a flavonoid that occurs in citrus plants naturally. Experimental evidencs have revealed its potent anti-diabetic activities mediated by decreases in the level of glycosylated haemoglobin, increases in the activities of glutathione peroxidases16,17, significant reductions in plasma glucose values, increases in hepatic hexokinases and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenases18, increasing insulin levels and ameliorating oxidative stress as evidenced by assay of superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase activities. It also increased the levels of vitamins C and E19. Diosmin is isolated from Scrophularia nodosa, an anti-diabetic plant. 

(b) Fisetin 

This flavonoid brings about its anti-diabetic effect by inhibiting gluconeogenesis through inhibition of mitochondrial pyruvate transport and a decrease in the cytosolic NADH/NAD redox20. Decreasing of glycogen breakdown, plasma glucose levels, glycosylated haemoglobin, mRNA and protein expression levels of gluconeogenic genes like phosphoenol pyruvate carboxykinase and by increasing plasma insulin are among the mechanisms by which fisetin brings about its anti-diabetic actions21. Moreover, hypoglycaemic activities of fisetin flavonoids have been associated with significant decreases in nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) p65 unit, interleukin-1β (IL-1β)and serum nitric oxide (NO)21. Fisetin, produced by  Cotinus coggygriaScop and also found ubiquitously in strawberry, apple, grape, onions and cucumber has been advocated for use in the prevention of diabetes 22,23

(c) Morin

Morin-treated diabetic rats showed anti-diabetic activities by improvement of antioxidant agents, reduction of insulin resistance, decrease in oxidative stress parameters, normalization of lipids and lipoproteins and decreases in the levels of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα)24. Experimental evidence also suggests that morin reduced inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-6 in diabetic  animals25. Recovery of hepatic insulin and leptin sensitivity, reduction in hyperlipidaemia and liver-lipid accumulation have been fingered as mechanisms by which morin brings about its anti-diabetic actions26. Morin has been shown to reduce glucose-6-phosphatase activities, increase hexokinase, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase activities and insulin levels27. Morin is contained in many medicinal herbs such as  Prunus dulcis(Mill),  Chlorophora tinctoria(L), Psidium guajava28,29

(d) Eriodictyol

Suppression of oxidative stress, up-regulation of mRNA expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) and adipocyte-specific fatty acid-binding protein together with the protein levels of PPARγ2 in differentiated 3T3-L1 adipocytes are key mechanisms involved in the anti-diabetic activity of eriodictyol. It has also been implicated in the reduction of retinal TNFα, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), endothelia nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) and lipid peroxides30,31. Lemon fruits contain eriodictyol in abundance32.

(e) Hesperidin

This flavonoid is ubiquitous in plants of the genus citrus especially Citrus aurantium33,34. Like eridictyol, hesperidin exhibits anti-diabetic activity by down regulating the generation of free radicals and the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines35-37. Normalization of the lipids and adiponectin together with alterations of the activities of glucose metabolizing enzymes decreases in the levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) and increases in the activities of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) have been reported with hesperidin administration38,39

(f) Naringenin

Citrus fruits and tomatoes contain naringenin in abundance, which confers antioxidant properties to these fruits40. Cochlospermun also contains naringenin in large amount41. Naringenin inhibits α glucosidase activities. It also inhibits glucose uptake  in vitroand interferes with genes associated with lipid metabolism42,43. Activation of 5′AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), enhancement of antioxidant activities, reduction of insulin resistance and improvement in hepatic function markers are also thought to be the mechanism of action of naringenin44-46

(g) Apigenin

This flavone flavonoid is ubiquitous in citrus, onions, vegetables, tea and nut47. Its mechanism of action is through the improvement of antioxidant parameters, enhancement of glucose transporter 4 (GLUT4) translocation and beta cell preservation48,49

(h) Baicalein

Baicalein scavenges free radicals, induces insulin production, reduces glycosylated haemoglobin, suppresses the activation of NF-kB, decreases the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β)50,51. Another major mechanism by which Baicalein operates is by up-regulation of AMPK44. This flavonoid is present in the roots of  Scutellaria baicalensisand fruits of Oroxylum indicum52,53

(i) Chrysin

It is a major component of Oroxylum indicum. It has also been isolated from Passiflora caerulea, Pelargonium peltatum, Tilia tomentosa, bee pollen, honey, fruits and vegetables54-56. Treatment with chrysin has been associated with suppression of TGF-β, fibronectin, and collagen-IV protein expression in the kidney. Serum levels of IL-1β and IL-6 were also reduced. With these observations, chrysin is thought to prevent nephropathy51. Chrysin administration also improves insulin levels and reduces lipid peroxidation57

(j) Luteolin

Luteolin is known to potentiate insulin action and increase transcriptional activation of PPARγ58. Luteolin also decreases circulating levels of inflammatory molecules, Monocyte Chemotactic Protein-1 (MCP-1), resistin and elevates adiponectin levels in obese mice59. It is also on record that luteolin improves insulin secretion60. Luteolin is found in abundance in carrots, peppers, cabbage, apple, vegetables and fruits61-63

(k) Tangeretin

Tangeretin administration decreased total cholesterol, leptin, resistin, IL6 and MCP-164. It is also in the literature that its administration significantly decreased glycosylated haemoglobin, improved insulin levels, enhanced glycolytic enzymes, controlled glucose metabolism in hepatic tissues and decreased an insulin-resistant factor, MCP-1 in 3T3-L1 adipocytes65. Rinds of citrus fruits contain tangeretin. 

(l) Wogonin

This is obtained from the root of Scutellaria baicalensis66. Wogonin interferes with insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism through its effect on AMPK and PPARα67

(m) Isorhamnetin

It is an anti-diabetic principle isolated from Hippophae rhamnoides, Oenanthe javanica and Ginkgo biloba. Its administration reduces oxidative stress, inhibits sorbitol accumulation and interferes with lipid metabolism68-70

(n) Kaempferol

This flavonol is present in Ginkgo biloba, tea, grapefruits, edible berry and vegetables71-73. Its administration is associated with the inhibition of apoptosis, reduction of caspase-3 activity in beta cells, improvement of cAMP signalling and enhancement of insulin synthesis and secretion74. It is also associated with the enhancement of antioxidant production and reduction of IL-1β, TNFα, lipid peroxidation, nitrite and glycosylated haemoglobin75,76

(o) Rutin 

Oranges, grapes, buckwheat, lemons, limes, berries and peaches contain rutin77,78. Proposed mechanisms for the antihyperglycemic effect of rutin include a decrease of carbohydrates absorption from the small intestine, inhibition of tissue gluconeogenesis, an increase of tissue glucose uptake, stimulation of insulin secretion from beta cells, and protecting Langerhans islet against degeneration. Rutin also decreases the formation of sorbitolreactive oxygen speciesadvanced glycation end-product precursors, and inflammatory cytokines. These effects are considered to be responsible for the protective effect of rutin against hyperglycemia- and dyslipidemia-induced nephropathyneuropathy, liver damage, and cardiovascular disorders.79,80.

(p) Quercetin

It is a flavonol flavonoid present in onions, berries, apples, pepper and coriander81,82. Its anti-diabetic actions are exhibited by increases in anti-oxidant enzymes, decreases in lipid peroxidation, reduction in intestinal glucose absorption by inhibiting GLUT283,84. Quercetin blocks tyrosine kinase and also the recovery of cell proliferation85. 

(q) Genistein

This is an isoflavone flavonoid present in legumes. Sophora subprostrala and  Genista tinctoria  contain genistein86. Renal TBARS were reduced upon genistein administration. It also improves glucose tolerance and increases blood insulin level without affecting body weight87

(r) Daidzein

Daidzein, an isoflavone flavonoid is present in nuts, soybeans and fruits. Daidzein improves lipid and glucose metabolism, improves insulin sensitivity and enhances AMPK phosphorylation in muscles88-91

(s) Cyanidin

Cyanidin, an anthocyanin flavonoid exhibits its anti-diabetic actions by inhibiting α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase92. It also prevents pancreatic apoptosis and improves antioxidant status93,94

(t) Delphinidin

This is anthocyanin present in berries, tomatoes, egg plant, vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, red cabbage and red onions. Its anti-diabetic activity is mediated through its antioxidant effects and reductions in albumin and haemoglobin glycations95

(u) Pelargonidin

It is present in blackberries, cranberries, ripe raspberries and blueberries96. Its administration relieves oxidative stress, nitrite levels and stimulates insulin secretion.  In diabetic rats, pelargonidin showed it reduces the formation of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) and antioxidant defensive enzymes levels 97,98. Structure of some flavonoids shown in Figure 1.


Plants contain numerous chemical compounds having medicinal values and include alkaloids, amino acids, amines and carboxylic acid derivatives, anthranoids, carbohydrates, glycosides, flavanoids, minerals, vitamins and inorganic compounds, peptidoglycans, polyphenol and its derivatives, saponins, and so on. These compounds are extracted from different parts of the various plants. This review aims to document and summarize the present knowledge about the mechanism-based action of antidiabetic plants, with emphasis on their flavonoids that target the various metabolic pathways in humans. The review has been organized according to various flavonoids, targeted metabolic pathways and plant sources in Table 1.




Figure 1: Structure of some flavonoids





Table 1: Various flavonoids having hypoglycaemic potential that regulate intermediates of different metabolic pathways. 

S. N.


Targeted metabolic pathways

Plant Source



Chrysin, isoquercitrin

Insulin secretion

Morus alba



Epigallocatechin-gallate, gallocatechin, epicatechin, (+) catechin, (−) epicatechin

Free radical scavenging activity, insulinonematinactivity

Camellia sinensis, Punica granatum, Satureja khuzestanica, Bauhinia forficate



Myrciaphenones A and B, myrciacitrins I and II

Insulin secretion

Myrcia multiflora



α-Cephalin, myricetin-3’- glucoside, ambrettolide

Insulin secretion

Abelmoschus moschatus



Cytrus bioflavonoids (hesperidin, naringin)

Glycogen synthesis, glycolysis, gluconeogenesis

Camellia sinensis



Flavanols, flavones, flavanones

Insulin secretion

Panax notoginseng



Quercetin, quercetrin, apigenin, rutin, apigenin-7- O-glucoside

Insulin secretion

Urtica dioica, Bauhinia varigtla, Ginkgo biloba




Insulin secretion

Camellia sinensis



Soy isoflavones (genistein, diadzein)

Lipid and glucose metabolism, PPAR activation

Glycin max, Curcuma longa

[107, 108]



Insulinonematic activity

Vitis vinifera



α-Terpineol, hexanol

Insulin secretion

Agaricus campestris





Bauhinia candicans, Bauhinia forficate



(+) Catechin, (−)epicatechin, chiorogenic acid, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigerin

Insulinomematic activity

Phylanthus embelica, Acacia Arabica, Pterocarpus marsupium, Phylanthus embelica



Silymarin, silybin, silychristin, silidianin

HMG Co A suppression

Silybum marianum



Kaempferol, isorhamnetin

Free radical scavenging activity

Ginkgo biloba



Tribulusamides A and B, kaempferol-3-β-D-(6’P- coumaroyl)glucoside, kaempferol-3-glucoside

Insulin secretion, free radical scavenging activity

Tribulus terrestris

[114, 115]


Leucopelargonidin, dulcitol

Insulin secretion

Casearia esculenta



Matteuorien, matteuorienin matteuorienate A, B, C

Insulin secretion

Matteuccia orientalis




Research into D. mellitus and its management in recent times has been geared towards isolation of efficacious active anti-diabetic agents of natural origin. A lot of studies have been carried out in various medicinal plants in this regard. Results have not only indicated that many medicinal plants possess anti-diabetic potentials but have demonstrated specific bioactive anti-diabetic principles and various mechanisms of actions of these agents. Bioactive anti-diabetic principles of plant origin are mainly phytochemicals, these phytochemicals act in a number of diverse mechanisms to bring about their anti-diabetic effects. Some of the mechanisms involved include increase in insulin secretion, decreases in hepatic glucose output, regulation of certain enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism such as α-glucosidase inhibitors, modulation of certain regulation molecules such as PPARγ, hypolipidaemic activities, antioxidant effects, interference with the activities of some glycolytic enzymes such as phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase activities, amelioration of glycosylated haemoglobin, enhancement of the expression of glucose transporters and others. 

Flavonoids were observed to be the most popular anti-diabetic principle among the phytochemicals. These naturally occurring secondary plant metabolites (Phytochemicals) hold great potential for production of marketable, novel and effective anti-diabetic drugs in near future. In general, bioactive anti-diabetic agents of plant origin constitute a group of natural products that have recently gained popularity in the health sector for management of various ailments such as diabetes mellitus. Satisfactory management of D. mellitus  in future is pivotal on medicinal plants.


Flavonoids have been proven to be strong candidates to reduce the pathogenesis of diabetes and its complications. The modulatory anti-diabetic effects of flavonoids reduce apoptosis and insulin resistance and enhance insulin secretion and GLUT 4 translocation118. Efforts have been made to establish an optimal human dietary consumption level of flavonoids worldwide, the consumption level of flavonoids depend on dietary habits, geographical location, socioeconomic status, food processing and preparation method, solubility of flavonoids, and the ethnicity of the population. To date, no recommended dosage of flavonoids has been reported due to the heterogeneity of their molecular structure and the limited information about their bioavailability. Major advances in understanding flavonoids bioavailability have been made, but the challenge to overcome problems, such as cellular permeability, solubility, excretion, and metabolic alternation, are still lacking. Research groups are trying to enhance flavonoids bioavailability by targeting absorption sites, improving metabolic stability and intestinal absorption119


Diabetes is possibly the world's fastest growing meta-bolic disease, and as knowledge of the heterogeneity of this disorder increases, so does the need for more appropriate therapies. Traditional plant medicines are used throughout the world for the management of diabetes because it is easily and cheaply available. The scientific validation of several plant species has proved the efficacy of the botanicals in management of diabetes acting through various mechanisms. There is a tapping need to search and develop new herbal formulations and nutraceuticals from natural resources especially with pure phytochemicals for the treatment of diabetes and to avoid serious diabetic complications. A systematic research and development in the form of drug delivery systems are necessary to explicate the pharmacological activities of herbal remedies being used nowadays to treat diabetes mellitus. The study of such medicines might offer a natural key to unlock a diabetologist's pharmacy for the future.

Conflict of Interest: The authors confirm that this article content has no conflict of interest.


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