Diabetes is a widespread chronic disease that has affected more than 400 million people across the world and the numbers are increasing every year. Diabetes that occurs due to the inability of the pancreas to make insulin (a hormone that balances the levels of glucose in the body) is called type-1 diabetes. If the body gets resistant to insulin, the person is said to suffer from type-2 diabetes, a condition which is far more prevalent than type-1.
Type-2 diabetes usually occurs due to a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy food habits and physical inactivity. However, in a recent research published in the journal Nature Communications on 4th January 2021, scientists have stated that the western diet (a diet high in unhealthy fats and refined sugars) changes the gut microbes in a way that they start causing metabolic damage, ultimately resulting in type-2 diabetes.
What are gut microbes?
Gut microbes are the microorganisms that are found in the digestive tract of the body, mostly in the intestines. There are around 40 trillion bacteria in the human body which are collectively known as gut microbiota. Gut microbes are extremely important for the body as they help in digesting the food, absorbing nutrients and protecting the body from infection.
What prompts changes in the gut microbes?
Scientists believe that since these bacteria interact with hundreds of different microbes, their structure changes resulting in an imbalance, which is also known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can result in metabolic disorders such as diabetes and other health conditions. Variation in gut microbes is also believed to be caused by changes in diet patterns. For example, a high-fat diet is considered to alter the microbial community leaving a significant impact on the host.
Do modified gut bacteria promote diabetes?
In order to find out the role of gut microbes in diabetes, scientists from the Oregon State University, US, conducted a study on a group of mice to determine the effect of a western diet on the host-microbe interactions (how microbes sustain themselves within the host) using Transkingdom Network analysis. This is a data-driven analysis to determine if individual microbes were responsible for metabolic damage in the host when the mice were given a western diet.
- The analyses found that there are four strains of microbes that affect the metabolism of glucose and lipids in the body - Lactobacillus johnsonii and Lactobacillus gasseri helped in improving metabolism (“improvers”). On the other hand, Romboutsia ilealis and Ruminococcus gnavus were found to worsen the metabolism of the body (“worseners”).
- During the study, scientists fed mice with a western diet along with the supplements of “improvers”.
- The results showed that the mice who received the strains of Lactobacilli bacteria (“improvers”) had improved glucose and lipid metabolism. This group of mice also had a lower fat mass index as compared to those who were only fed the diet and no supplements.
- With this study, the scientists concluded that there are individual microbes (and not the entire microbiota) that play a role in developing metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
- It was further noted that people who have metabolism improvers like lactobacilli in their body tend to have a better body mass index. On the other hand, those with metabolism worsening bacteria tend to be overweight and obese. This is corroborated by the fact that almost 80% of obese people show the presence of R. ilealis in their body.
Can gut bacteria help deal with diabetes?
The study highlighted the importance of Lactobacilli in improving metabolism, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes. Lactobacillus is a microbe that contains hundreds of different bacterial strains in it. It is widely present in probiotics and fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and fortified dairy products such as yoghurt. Various fermented Indian foods like idlis and dosas also have healthy bacteria and can be included as part of a healthy diet.
Another study published in the journal Science concluded that people who consume a fibrous diet have more indolepropionic acid (an anti-inflammatory agent) in their blood, which is formed with the help of gut bacteria. This agent reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
If not treated in a timely manner, diabetes can cause complications and impair various vital organs. By making small but significant lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, consuming probiotics and whole foods, and embracing positive behaviours, diabetes can be prevented and managed successfully. Scientists believe that this recent study might have opened a new door to possible probiotic treatments in the future that could help in dealing with serious metabolic diseases including diabetes.