Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by hyperglycaemia, and predicted by the World Health Organization as the expected 7th leading cause of death in 2030. Diabetes mellitus type 2 (DMT2) comprises the majority of diabetic individuals around the world (90%–95%). Pathophysiologically, this disorder results from a deregulation of glucose homeostasis, worsened by overweight and by a sedentary lifestyle, culminating in life-threatening cardiovascular events. The currently available anti-diabetic drugs are not devoid of undesirable side effects, sometimes responsible for poor therapeutic compliance. This represents a challenge for contemporary medicine, and stimulates research focused on the development of safer and more efficient anti-diabetic therapies. Amongst the most promising sources of new bioactive molecules, seaweeds represent valuable, but still underexploited, biofactories for drug discovery and product development. In this review, the role of phlorotannins, a class of polyphenols exclusively produced by brown seaweeds, in the management of DMT2 will be discussed, focusing on various pharmacologically relevant mechanisms and targets, including pancreatic, hepatic and intestinal enzymes, glucose transport and metabolism, glucose-induced toxicity and β-cell cytoprotection, and considering numerous in vitro and in vivo surveys.
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