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Are Gut Bacteria and Diabetes Related?

taking medication

Diabetes has clearly become a global healthcare problem that affects millions of people.  Those of us who are overweight, have high cholesterol, and lack of physical activity are most at risk.  However, there are also people, like my father, who don’t have these risk factors that are also afflicted. The truth is, we don’t know all the factors that contribute to diabetes, but we do know that around the world, the disease accounts for billions of dollars on pharmaceutical drug sales. According to the CDC there are 29 million diabetics in the U.S., and another 86 million (1 in 3 people) classified as prediabetic.

 At SuperBio, we are constantly reviewing the latest probiotic and prebiotic research about the far reaching benefits of probiotics. Recently, I read a paper written by Dr. Helle Krogh Pedersen, et al, at the University of Copenhagen that sheds light on how probiotics may help in the fight against diabetes.

Dr. Pedersen’s research shows that the onset of diabetes in some people may be due to an imbalance in gut bacteria.  In the study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark evaluated 277 non-diabetic individuals and 75 type 2 diabetic patients. Their goal was to understand the connection between gut bacteria and insulin, the hormone your body uses to metabolize sugar.

The researcher group found that there were two gut bacteria species, Prevotella copri and Bacteroides vulgatus that were associated with insulin resistance. In addition, by feeding these bacterial species to mice they could induce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where the body still produces insulin, but cannot use that insulin effectively. When this happens, glucose accumulates in the blood, and isn’t absorbed and metabolized by cells in the body. This excess blood sugar leads to the classic symptoms of diabetes. 

The Copenhagen study is particularly powerful because unlike other studies, they used both human data as well as animal studies. This makes the data more relevant and useable in a human context. According to Dr. Pedersen, “the study shows that specific imbalances in the gut microbiota are essential contributors to insulin resistance, a forerunner state of widespread disorders like type 2 diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases, which are in epidemic growth.”

I think the Copenhagen study is significant for three reasons. First, the study clearly shows that an imbalance in gut bacteria population can now be associated with certain metabolic diseases. Second, Dr. Pedersen’s research explains how gut bacteria play a critical role in overall physiology and in systems that are distant from the gut. Third, the wider implications of the study suggest that by taking probiotics through supplements or in fermented foods, we can modulate our gut microbiome in such a way that we promote “good” gut bacterial species that help us reduce the effect of “bad” bacterial species, thereby helping to prevent diseases like diabetes.