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Understanding the Relationship Between Diabetes and Gut Health

When diabetes is not controlled properly through diet and medications, it affects other major organs in the body including the eyes, kidneys, feet and digestive system.

Published: March 25, 2022 1:32 PM IST

By Lifestyle Staff | Edited by Anjali Thakur

Understanding the Relationship Between Diabetes and Gut Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Diabetes and Gut Health

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs when blood glucose or blood sugar levels are too high. This happens when our pancreas can no longer make a hormone called insulin (type 1) or when our body becomes insensitive to the insulin that the pancreas produces (type 2). The more commonly seen form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. Over a period of time, when we repeatedly eat the wrong foods, it affects how our body turns the food we eat into energy. When diabetes is not controlled properly through diet and medications, it affects other major organs in the body including the eyes, kidneys, feet and digestive system.

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Why is diabetes a serious health issue?

While everyone is concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, diabetes is being termed as the true epidemic of the century. Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease that has become more common over the years. With economic growth, many more people across the globe are switching to a more sedentary lifestyle and a diet that is high in sugar and processed foods.

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According to the International Diabetes Federation, the number of people between the ages of 20 and 79 with diabetes which was 463 million in 2019 is projected to almost double to 700 million by 2045. Statistics reveal that while the highest number of people with diabetes are in North America and the Middle East, South Asia is fast catching up with the fastest growth. With rapid urbanisation, India is now home to the second-largest population of diabetics in the world. One in six diabetics in the world is from India.

By all means, it would be better to try and prevent diabetes rather than evaluate treatment options after you are diagnosed. According to the most recent studies, there is a high probability that improving gut health could help prevent or even reverse diabetes by making metabolism more efficient, reducing the risk of inflammation and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Could improving gut health help reduce the risk of diabetes?

The term “gut microbiome” refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our gut. Our gut microbiome serves as a complete ecosystem that affects our digestion, metabolism, immune system, skin health and even our moods and emotions.

There are both beneficial and harmful bacteria and the balance between them is very delicate. When this balance is disturbed, it creates a condition known as dysbiosis that leads to digestive problems like bloating, nausea, constipation and diarrhoea as well as skin issues like acne in the short term. In the long term, it causes chronic gut inflammation that can lead to over 40 diseases including diabetes and heart disease.

A large-scale study that was conducted at the renowned Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and was published in the Nature Medicine journal found a clear link between certain gut microbes and lower risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It is not exactly clear how gut bacteria and the risk for diabetes is related. What is most likely is that certain gut bacteria affect obesity and insulin resistance. Blood sugar levels spike when the body becomes insensitive to insulin.

The number and diversity of the bacteria in our gut is based on the foods that we choose to eat. When we eat, we are not only taking in food to provide energy for our daily activities but also nourishing the bacteria living in our gut. There are foods that good bacteria thrive on and those that encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Studies have found that people can reduce their risk of diseases like diabetes by changing their diet.

In the event that you have a family history of diabetes, you have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. You can reduce this risk that your genetic blueprint has given you by making smarter diet choices. Thus, by personalizing your gut microbiome and opting for a diet rich in healthy and plant-based foods, you can encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

The study at Massachusetts General Hospital covered over 1,100 people in the US and UK and closely examined the links between their diet, microbiome sequence data and the results of hundreds of cardiometabolic blood markers. The outcome of the study was that people who tended to eat clean and had a higher intake of vegetables had fewer biomarkers for obesity, cardiovascular disease and impaired glucose tolerance.

There are certain species of bacteria like Prevotella copri and Blastocystis which help to maintain favourable blood sugar levels after a meal. There are other species of bacteria that are linked to a lower number of markers of inflammation and levels of blood fats after a meal.

Researchers thus believe that a gut microbiome test and the related data can help determine the risk of cardiometabolic disease among people who do not yet have symptoms. Such gut microbiome tests can give you a snapshot of your gut health and thus give you a timely warning if you have a higher risk of diabetes due to an imbalance in your gut microbiome.

Other Steps you can Take to Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes

  1. Check Blood Sugar Levels Regularly: Check your blood levels at least every 3 months even if they are normal. Watch out for warning signs like extreme hunger, thirst and urination.
  2. Adopt a Healthy Diet: Ensure that you eat a diet that is well balanced, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. A diet that is rich in added sugar and refined carbohydrates like sweets and snacks will play havoc with your digestive system.
  3. Get More Exercise: Adopting a more active lifestyle will reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  4. Add more probiotic foods to your diet: Add more probiotic foods like yoghurt and kefir to your diet. Probiotic foods are nutritious and can increase the richness and diversity of your gut microbiome
  5. Avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary: Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can alter the bacterial balance in the gut. According to data that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, at least 30 per cent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary. Take antibiotics only if they are absolutely unavoidable.

Recent studies have suggested that gut microbes adapt quickly to changes in diet and preparation. With the right guidance and diet choices after a gut microbiome test, you can transform your health with a personalised diet and reduce your risk of diabetes.

(Inputs by Dr Surendra K Chikara – Founder & CEO – Bione)

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