Key to Controlling Diabetes Could Be in Your Gut Bacteria

by Chris Centeno, MD /

diabetes and gut bacteria

Colon health is a hot topic these days. We hear a lot about nurturing our colon’s good bacteria, through things like a healthy diet and probiotics, which helps keep the bad bacteria in check. The intestinal wall actually houses the cells that make up the majority of our immune system. So with bacteria (good and bad) and so many of our immune cells living in such close proximity, it’s easy to see how the bacteria in our colon can have a huge impact on the health of our immune system. Now, a new study has linked the bad bacteria in our colon to metabolic syndrome, specifically type-2 diabetes.

Let’s delve more into diabetes and gut bacteria before highlighting the new study.

Diabetes and Autoimmune Disease Defined

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system is unable to recognize its own beta cells (the cells that make insulin) in the pancreas and attacks and destroys them. In other words the immune system sees the cells as a foreign enemy, something that doesn’t belong in the body, and obliterates them. Without its insulin-producing cells, the pancreas can’t make insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot turn food into glucose, which is required to fuel the body.

There are many autoimmune diseases, and these are defined by the immune system fighting its own host, as if the otherwise normal body part were an invading infection. Examples include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis where the immune system attacks the thyroid or rheumatoid arthritis where it attacks the joints. Diabetes is, by far, the most common autoimmune disease with roughly 29 million people in the United States affected (and over 80 million prediabetic), and it is one of the leading causes of death (American Diabetes Association) in the U.S. In addition, there are many diabetes-associated complications, such as kidney disease, circulation issues leading to limb amputations, hypertension, and strokes and heart attacks.

The Good and the Bad of Gut Bacteria

Good gut bacteria should be the dominating force inside our colon, and a healthy diet is like the fertilizer that feeds them. When they are abundant and thriving, they function like a second immune system and kill off much of the bad bacteria. They also help control our weight by consuming calories, enhancing digestion, and helping our bodies absorb vitamins and nutrients and eliminate the rest.

Bad bacteria thrive on a poor diet (e.g., sugar, processed carbohydrates, unhealthy oils, and so on). Without the healthy-diet fertilizer, the good bacteria die off and the bad bacteria become the dominating force inside the colon. Additional things that can cause bad bacteria to take over and thrive include medications, particularly antibiotics because these not only kill the bacterial infection they also kill off our good bacteria in the process, and even strong infections, such as a Clostridium difficile (C.difficile) infection. Bad bacteria can also cause a leaky gut, which can lead to metabolic syndrome, and with it, weight gain, inflammation, high blood pressure, and so on.

Diabetes and Gut Bacteria: Rouge Bacteria May Lead to Diabetes According to Study

Late last year there was a study linking Parkinson’s disease to gut bacteria, and, now, we have a new study that investigated the potential links between gut bacteria and type-2 diabetes. The study consisted of 42 subjects between the ages of 21 and 75 who were receiving a colon cancer screening through the VA (14 had diabetes, 19 were obese). Two or three biopsies were taken from the interior of each subject’s colon, consisting of the mucosal lining.

The results? Bacteria in those who were not obese and did not have diabetes were limited to the outside areas of the samples of mucus lining. In the diabetic individuals, bacteria were found in the inner layers of the mucus close to the epithelial layer. So the bacteria in the diabetic individuals had penetrated their intestinal walls and were now living side by side with the immune cells that reside just below that epithelial layer.

The upshot? In finding a link between diabetes and gut bacteria, this study could explain why a healthy diet is so important in type-2-diabetic and prediabetic individuals. Drilled down to the basic level, if we fertilize the good bacteria with a good diet and high-quality probiotics, they thrive and our immune system thrives. If we feed the bad bacteria, they take over and wreak havoc on our digestive and immune systems, making us prone to all kinds of problems, now including type-2 diabetes.

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Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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