Type 2 diabetes affects 90% of the nearly 35 million people afflicted with the disease in the U.S. In some cases their bodies don’t produce enough insulin. In others they respond incorrectly to it. In both scenarios, blood sugar levels rise, which can damage organs over time.
Research has shown that saturated fats and refined sugars, which dominate much of Western food consumption, can be prime culprits. This led scientists to wonder if gut bacteria might play a key role in treating the pervasive disease.
Why gut bacteria?
The gut microbiome is filled with hundreds of species of bacteria whose interactions — or sometimes absence — can have significant impacts on a person’s overall health. Previous research indicates that a few key bacteria may play a major role in affecting how various bodily functions play out.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers fed mice a normal diet and a Western diet. Those who received the Western diet, with increased amounts of fats and sugars, developed glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, two common precursors to Type 2 diabetes.
The scientists narrowed down the gut bacteria associated with changes in metabolism: Two were potential “improvers,’’ and two were potential “worseners.” When “improvers” were added to the diet of mice who ate a Western diet and developed pre-diabetic markers, their glucose tolerance improved.
Although more research is needed, the authors say their results show an opportunity to develop a targeted approach using certain bacteria, as opposed to trying to revamp a person’s entire microbiome.
Of course, eating a healthier diet can help get the whole process rolling.