Diabetes and Your Gut: The Probiotic Connection

Diabetes and Your Gut: The Probiotic Connection – Inside (and on) your body is a veritable ecosystem of bacteria, some good, some bad and all interacting together in ways that influence your current health. A large number of these microorganisms — up to 100 trillion – reside in your intestinal tract [1] and research is showing just how powerful an influence these bacteria can have on a host of diseases – including diabetes.
What do Your Gut Bacteria Have to do With Diabetes?
The good bacteria, aka probiotics, in your gut play a crucial role in your ability to digest and absorb food and nutrients while helping to keep disease-causing bacteria in check. Probiotics are also a crucial part of your immune defense system, a large portion of which actually resides in your gut.
What research is revealing is that each person’s microflora makeup is unique and dynamic, often changing in response to dietary choices, medications taken (especially antibiotics), pollution exposure and even stress. Depending on what your particular microflora balance looks like, it can either contribute to or help prevent illnesses.
For instance, the gut bacteria of people with type 2 diabetes differs from those without the disease, according to a recent study in the journal PLoS ONE,[2] which suggests that the makeup of your intestinal microflora may play a role in whether or not you develop type 2 diabetes.
Specifically, the study found decreased levels of bacteria called Firmicutes and increased amounts of Betaproteobacteria in diabetics as compared to their non-diabetic counterparts. The research adds support to a growing lot of studies linking your gut bacteria with type 2 diabetes.
Probiotics May Lower Your Diabetes Risk
Conclusive studies have yet to be conducted, but a preliminary review suggests a positive role in probiotics for helping to ward off diabetes.
In 2006, an Indian study found a probiotic-rich yogurt drink known as dahi delayed the progression of diabetes in rats fed fructose. Rats that drank the yogurt drink along with the fructose diet for eight weeks had less significant increases in blood glucose levels compared to rats that did not drink the dahi.[3]
Meanwhile, separate research out just this year found that pregnant women who took probiotic supplements from their first trimester through the end of exclusive breastfeeding had a lower risk of gestational diabetes [4] while other studies have linked probiotics to reductions in body weight and abdominal fat [5] – both risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Probiotics have also been found to be beneficial for metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases your risk of diabetes.
Are You Getting Enough Probiotics?
The jury is still out on which strains of good bacteria are best for potentially warding off diabetes, but it’s very possible that various strains will prove beneficial, likely each through its own distinct mechanism.
For now, your best bet to take advantage of these findings is to fortify your diet with a variety of probiotic-rich foods, many of which have been consumed by cultures around the globe since ancient times for their health benefits and taste. Fermented or cultured foods are naturally rich in probiotics and include:
Kefir, a fermented milk drink
Sauerkraut and other fermented veggies
Kimchi (a fermented Korean vegetable dish)
Natto (fermented soy)
Lassi, an Indian fermented yogurt drink
There are a range of probiotic yogurts and beverages on the market as well, but be aware that these often contain added sugars that you’re better off avoiding. For best results, prepare your kefir, yogurt or sauerkraut at home for a phenomenal, and inexpensive, probiotic source (keep in mind too that commercial sauerkrauts and other veggies will not provide probiotic benefits because they have been pasteurized, which kills the bacteria).
In addition to eating fermented foods, you can increase your body’s supply of probiotics by taking them in supplement form. Remember that different strains of probiotics likely offer different benefits, so you’ll want to do some research to determine which strains are most beneficial for your health needs, and which supplement makers offer high-quality products.
Other Tips for Diabetes Prevention
Balancing your gut microflora with probiotics is only one strategy to keep type 2 diabetes at bay. Others that should be at the top of your list include eating right, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. When combined, these healthy lifestyle factors are incredibly effective at preventing diabetes.
This is true even if you have pre-diabetes, a precursor to diabetes that impacts 57 million Americans (many who do not know they have it). The recent Diabetes Prevention Program study actually found that people with pre-diabetes can reduce their diabetes risk by 58 percent by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. These natural modifications worked even better than drugs to prevent the disease!
So, if you’re looking to stay diabetes-free for many years to come, remember to look at your body as a whole. Everything from the nutrients you take in to your weight to the bacterial makeup in your gut can help you either prevent or develop this disease, and you have the power to make sure your choices lead to the former instead of the latter.
1. Science June 2, 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5778, pp. 1355 – 13592.
2. PLoS One. 2010 Feb 5;5(2):e9085.
3. Nutrition. 2007 Jan;23(1):62-8. Epub 2006 Nov 2.
4. British Journal of Nutrition 2010 Jun;103(12):1792-9. Epub 2010 Feb 4.
5. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010 Jun;64(6):636-43. Epub 2010 Mar 10.