To mark World Diabetes Day today, Anita Tait, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Microba Clinical Application Specialist, takes a look at what role our gut health plays in diseases such as diabetes.
With chronic disease on the rise, more people are considering risk factors that can contribute to the development of these conditions. Today marks World Diabetes Day (November 14) and it’s important to put one chronic disease into the spotlight – Type 2 Diabetes. Across the world, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) is becoming increasingly prevalent. In Australia, over one million adults are reported to have Type 2 Diabetes, which accounts for around 5.3% of the adult population and the statistics are no less bad in other parts of the world.
What is diabetes?
so common that many of us will know someone living with this condition. Chances
are they are managing Type 2 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune
condition which tends to appear in childhood when the body stops being able to
make enough insulin. In contrast, Type 2 Diabetes is more common as we get
older and starts when the body stops responding to insulin. Insulin is a
hormone which acts as a bridge, allowing sugar to cross from the blood into
cells where it can be burnt for fuel. If the body isn’t making enough insulin
or stops responding to insulin, glucose can’t leave the blood, resulting in
high blood sugar levels.
We have always known the best way to protect from Type 2 Diabetes is through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Science is now helping us understand the important role the gut microbiome plays in blood glucose control.
How is your gut involved?
New research suggests that not only is the development of Type 2 Diabetes influenced by family history, lifestyle and dietary factors but also by your gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria living in your large intestine. You may be wondering how this all works? Your gut bacteria produce compounds called metabolites and these can impact the entire body in ways that can be either beneficial or detrimental to your health.
Some compounds which have received a lot of attention in the scientific literature are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s). BCAA’s are essential amino acids which we can obtain from our diet or our gut microbiome. High levels of BCAA’s in your blood have been shown to be a risk factor for the development of Type 2 Diabetes. The role of the microbiome in this process has been confirmed by studies which have shown that a high potential to produce BCAA’s in your gut microbiome is linked to how well your body responds to insulin.5
How does a healthy diet and lifestyle help?
It’s well known that reduced physical activity is a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes. One reason for this is that muscle plays an important role in regulating BCAA levels in the blood. This means that maximising muscle mass through regular physical activity is important in keeping your metabolism healthy. This explains why athletes are able to consume high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids supplements without it leading to problems with their blood sugar levels.
A diet low in fibre (especially the important prebiotics) will also impact the gut microbiome’s potential to produce BCAA’s, which can play a role in the development of Type 2 Diabetes. We already know that one of the biggest influences on the gut microbiome is diet5,which is why dietary changes are essential for altering and optimising the health of the gut microbiome.
Looking for ways to improve your gut health naturally?
- Increase your intake of diverse
plant-based foods that contain high levels of prebiotics.
- Try mixing up your diet with more whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
These foods will help fuel your beneficial gut bacteria, encouraging them to thrive, which will also help to increase the diversity of your gut microbiome and maintain healthy gut function.
Can your gut bacteria be measured?
Advancements in science and computing technology over recent decades has provided better tools for healthcare professionals to use in order to investigate more about an individual’s gut bacteria. These advancements have led to better sequencing technologies such as shotgun metagenomic sequencing technology. This technology allows us to estimate the microbiome potential to produce metabolites, such as Branched Chain Amino Acids. Knowing your microbiome’s potential to produce Branched Chain Amino Acids can help inform positive lifestyle changes to promote your long-term health. For more information visit www.microba.com.
World Diabetes Day is held each year on 14 November to raise awareness of diabetes and promote advocacy efforts around the globe. The day is held on the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting who co-discovered insulin in 1922 with Charles Best. Visit https://worlddiabetesday.org/ for more information.
 Qin. et al. A metagenome-wide association study of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes. Nature 490, 55–60 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11450
 Shou, Chen and Xiao, 2019. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 65, 383-389.