Bacterial populations in the gut of diabetics differ from non-diabetics, says a new study from Denmark that may open up a potential role for modifying gut microflora with probiotics and prebiotics to improve health.

The study, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, builds on earlier studies that have linked gut microflora and obesity.

A breakthrough paper published in Nature in December 2006 reported that microbial populations in the gut are different between obese and lean people.

The results of this new study indicate that type-2 diabetes in humans is associated with compositional changes in intestinal microbiota.


Nutra February 12, 2010

PloS One February 5, 2010: 5(2):e9085

Dr. Mecola's Comments

Having the right bacteria in your gut has an enormous influence on your health, and yet many people frequently ignore this aspect when they assess their lifestyle.

It's actually quite likely that one of the main benefits of a healthy diet is that it will nurture proper bacterial growth and balance in your colon.

There is a wealth of evidence demonstrating that the nutritional cause of many diseases is related to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, a problem easily rectified by eating a diet consisting of high quality, minimally processed, and preferably organic, foods.

In addition, there's plenty of evidence showing the harm being done by the over-prescribing of antibiotics as they are indiscriminate killers, eradicating all the beneficial bacteria in your gut along with the bad ones.

Consider the fact that if you're eating conventionally-farmed meats, you're ingesting antibiotics with every bite, whether you know it, and approve of it, or not.

In fact, 70 percent of all antibiotics produced are used on healthy livestock, and consuming these antibiotic-laden meats may be a significant factor underlying many people's health problems. This is why I constantly stress the importance of eating grass-fed and organically-raised meats of all kinds.

Gut Flora May Affect Diabetes and Obesity Risk

Previous studies have found links between gut flora and some cases of obesity. And although I don't believe it's the explanation for the obesity epidemic, I believe it may be a factor.

The same goes for the connection between your intestinal flora and diabetes.

After all, inside your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria (probiotics) and bad bacteria that play a major role in your physical and mental health. So it's quite conceivable that a fundamental shift in your gut flora might make it easier to gain weight, and/or affect the delicate balance of leptin and insulin in your body.

And if you've read my newsletter for any amount of time, you may remember that diabetes and obesity are indeed linked - by disruptions in your leptin regulation.

Gut Bacteria Differs Between Diabetics and Non-Diabetics

Although there appears to be a link between gut flora and both obesity and diabetes, the two problems might be associated with different bacterial populations, according to this study.
"Assuming that diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance are linked to obesity, our results are in agreement with the recent evidence obtained for overweight persons,"

"Furthermore, based on the assumption above, a positive correlation between ratios of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes and BMI could be expected."

"However, the reverse tendency was observed, indicating that overweight and diabetes are associated with different groups of the intestinal microbiota."
The results showed significant differences in intestinal populations of various bacterial groups between diabetics and non-diabetics. In particular, diabetics had fewer Firmicutes and more plentiful amounts of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria, compared to non-diabetics.

They also found a positive correlation for the ratios of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes and reduced glucose tolerance.

What Does this Mean for You?

The bad news is that although the use of probiotics may be used by conventional medicine in the future, your doctor is not likely to make the connection and give you a "prescription" today.

The good news is that positively influencing the bacteria growing in your body is relatively easy and something you can do right now, on your own. The only thing you can't do is determine exactly which type of beneficial bacteria you might be in need of.

However, there is a solution!

Remember that any time you begin at the ground floor, meaning your diet, you don't need to focus excessively on individual ingredients, such as one specific probiotic strain, because your body works with your diet to form a symbiotic whole, greater than any of the individual parts.

And in this case, one of the most important steps you can take to improve the bacterial balance in your intestines is to simply stop consuming sugary foods.

Eating a healthy diet low in sugars, grains and processed foods will generally cause the good bacteria in your gut to flourish, and naturally build up a major defense against excessive amounts of bad bacteria that can damage your health. In essence, your body will self-regulate, as long as you don't confuse or overwhelm it.

This is one of the many reasons I highly recommend reducing, with the plan of eliminating, sugars and most grains from your diet.

Eating foods that are suitable for your nutritional type is an important aspect of shedding excess pounds, as you will then give your body the fuel it needs to run optimally, AND it's a crucial factor for successfully treating diabetes.

So by making just that one change, you're automatically addressing three health problems at the same time: being overweight, diabetes (insulin and leptin resistance), and potential imbalances in your gut flora.

In addition to switching to an extremely low-sugar diet, these other factors are also best avoided as they negatively influence your gut bacteria:
  • Antibiotics
  • Chlorinated water
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Pollution
All of these things help to kill off your good bacteria. This is why it's a wise choice to "reseed" your body with good bacteria from time to time by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating properly fermented foods like natto, healthy sauerkraut, or kim chee.

Beware When Buying Probiotic Food Products

Unfortunately, the food industry is now looking to cash in on the health-supporting properties of probiotics, and there's no shortage of food products claiming to correct your intestinal imbalance.

But you really need to know what you're looking for when it comes to probiotic supplements.

For example, the pasteurized "probiotic" yogurts you find in every grocery store these days are NOT a good choice because they are pasteurized, and will be associated with all of the problems of pasteurized milk products. They also have added sugars, dyes, and often contain artificial sweeteners, which will worsen your health.

You're far better off seeking out fermented foods to get your probiotics.

One of my favorites is natto, but it can be a challenge for most people to get down. I season my natto with mustard, onions, and some Himalayan salt, which I think makes it quite palatable.

There are many other food products that are excellent choices for natural probiotics, but you won't find them in fancy packages at your supermarket. They are traditionally fermented food products - items like sauerkraut (that you make at home in a crock) and other fermented veggies, and kefir, a fermented milk drink made from RAW milk, for example. These are true superfoods that will naturally fortify your gut with plenty of good bacteria.

Guidelines for Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements can be very beneficial as well, especially if you opt not to include any of the fermented foods I just mentioned in your diet. They're one of only two supplements that are recommended to nearly all new patients at my Natural Health Center.

However, you need to make sure you're getting a high-quality variety. Here's what you need to look for in a probiotic supplement:
  • The bacteria strains in the product must be able to survive your stomach acid and bile, so that they reach your intestines alive in adequate numbers.
  • The bacteria strains must have health-promoting features.
  • The probiotic activity must be guaranteed throughout the entire production process, storage period and shelf life of the product.
One thing I've found through my years of clinical practice is that no single probiotic supplement works for everyone. However, I have found that more people respond favorably to Lactobacillus sporogenes than any other probiotic, so when in doubt, that's a great place to start.