Microbes Matter in Blood Sugar Control


    There’s nothing sweet about out-of-control blood sugars. Yet billions across the globe struggle to steady the high numbers broadly labelled as diabetes.

    Diabetes, the Problem

    A look at the three types of diabetes:

    • Type 1 diabetes: Beta cell destruction in the pancreas, possibly enabled when dysbiosis fails to prevent antigen attacks on beta cells
    • Gestational diabetes: caused by stresses of pregnancy
    • Type 2 diabetes: Impaired insulin production and insulin resistance

    Role for Microbes

    While different roads lead to the various forms of diabetes, microbes appear to be backseat drivers for all of them though most evidence thus far addresses the last, Type 2 diabetes, which can come on gradually through insulin resistance.

    Dysbiosis — imbalance of the gut microbial ecosystem — often exists in insulin resistance. Emerging evidence in rodents and humans suggests that dysbiosis leads to the following sequence of unhealthy events: Increased gut permeability which in turn allows leakage of endotoxins into the blood which causes systemic low-grade inflammation. And reversing it, a healthy microbiota may restore normal conditions. One recent study from the Netherlands found that transfer of intestinal microbiota from lean donors to individuals with metabolic syndrome increased insulin sensitivity as well as butyrate-producing microbes which are linked to better control.

    Other Evidence that Microbes are Involved in Blood Sugar Control:

    Can Probiotics Help?

    The data on the use of probiotics to improve glycemic control is inconsistent yet provocative the same.

    • A 2015 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials concluded that probiotics may have a modest effect on glycemic control, but that even these small changes can be beneficial.
    • Another meta-analysis done around the same period recorded significant drops in HbA1c (a biomarker which rises as blood sugar control worsens) but there were no differences in fasting blood glucose or insulin concentrations for those consuming probiotics.
    • And just this year, an analysis of several other data sets looked at results of probiotic supplementation on patients with Type 2 diabetes. They found significant drops in fasting blood glucose and insulin concentrations but no change in HbA1c. Therefore conflicting data abounds.

    Hence type and amounts of probiotics in addition to the duration of studies are confounders as well as individual subject uniqueness.

    Mechanism of Action

    Low-grade inflammation, and in particular endotoxemia such as high amounts of gut microbiota-derived lipopolysaccharide LPS in plasma, is involved in the onset and progression of insulin resistance in both rodent and human models, according to a recent review in The British Journal of Nutrition. A high fat content in the diet and changes in barrier function are purported factors in endotoxemia.

    In that review, Peter Bron and colleagues also reported that several studies show both diet-induced and genetic type 2 diabetic mice displayed changes in gut microbiota. Bifidobacteria is reduced and this has been linked to reduced intestinal LPS levels and improved mucosal barrier function in mice.

    Prebiotics restore bifidobacterial colonies in the intestines which leads to the reduction of metabolic endotoxemia, gut barrier dysfunction and inflammation. Only a few human studies have been conducted testing the benefit but are promising.

    In addition to prebiotic influence, probiotic supplementation may have beneficial effects in Type 2 diabetes. Various lactobacilli were shown to positively affect various metabolic disorder parameters. For example, a strain of Lactobacillus casei “induced a reduction of insulin resistance separate from any change in fat mass and body weight.” Akkermansia muciniphila “also has been shown to reinforce gut barrier function leading to” reduced inflammation and metabolic endotoxemia upon high-fat-diet feeding in diabetic mice.

    Fortifying intestinal mucosal walls and producing butyrate are two mechanisms of actions according to a recent review in Diabetes and Metabolism Journal.

    Final Remarks

    In conclusion, prebiotics and probiotics are known to reduce the core problems inherent in guts of diabetics: excess gut permeability, endotoxemia and inflammatory response. Probiotics may be added with fermented food products or supplements. Feeding the microbes with prebiotics such as fructo-oligosaccharides is imperative to achieve flourishing colonies of good bacteria.

    Clare Fleishman MS RD bridges the gap between science and health across most platforms: major newspapers, magazines, books (Globesity), workshops, social media and websites. From corporate whiteboards to refugee schools in Egypt, Fleishman agitates for personal and public change. In 2010, she launched www.ProbioticsNow.com to share the cascade of new discovery in the microbiome. Always amazed at this “forgotten organ”, Fleishman also creates white papers, blogs, videos and social media for the International Probiotics Association.

    NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product. The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.