Health, Nutrition

Diabetes and A Healthy Microbiome

By Christina Badaracco, Dietetic Intern 

What Is the Microbiome?

The human microbiome includes all the bacteria, both good and bad, that live in our organs. There are actually about 10 times as many bacterial cells in the body as human cells! Bacteria play many important roles in keeping us healthy, such as protecting us from invading bad bacteria and breaking down (or fermenting) the fiber in foods like vegetables that our own bodies can’t digest.

Our microbiome includes many different types of bacteria, and more diversity is typically a sign of good health. Many diseases, such as diabetes, can reduce the diversity in our gut and create environments that are better for bacteria that produce substances that cause inflammation or other harmful effects.  In this figure you can see many of the things that cause the microbiome to become imbalanced (such as taking antibiotics or poor diet) and some of the health problems that might result.  The microbiome is such an important factor in our health that the National Institutes of Health have launched two versions of the Human Microbiome Project, granting hundreds of millions of dollars into research about the connection between changes in the human microbiome and disease.

Is there a Link Between the Microbiome and Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can be caused by genetics as well as diet and lifestyle.  Eating a healthy diet (one with lots of fiber-filled fruits and veggies and low in sugar and saturated fat) and exercising regularly can help keep your microbiome healthy and might help reduce the risk of developing diabetes.  The short-chain fatty acids that good gut bacteria produce when breaking down fiber can increase your body’s metabolism and how quickly glucose in the blood is used up, which can help manage blood sugar.  A recent study showed that a diet rich in fiber could improve diabetes management because it produces the short-chain fatty acids the cells of our gut lining need to be healthy.  Fiber also reduces inflammation and keeps you feeling full, which helps with managing portion sizes and keep blood sugar steady after meals. The types of bacteria in the gut also shifted to the species that love a high-fiber diet, promoting health long into the future.

How Can I Feed a Healthy Gut Microbiome?

  • Eating a diet rich in fiber keeps your good bacteria happy. They break down molecules like cellulose found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limit high-sugar and high-fat meals. Bad bacteria thrive when we eat a high-sugar and high-animal fat diet. Try to limit foods like sodas, candy, large servings of fast foods, sugary baked goods, red and processed meats.
  • Try to eat some foods with probiotics. Foods that are already broken down (or fermented) contain good bacteria that can colonize and thrive in our guts. As a bonus for people with diabetes, these bacteria have already broken down some of the glucose for you! Some examples of fermented foods include:
    • Dairy: cheese or yogurt
    • Bread: sourdough
    • Grains: injera (found in Ethiopian cuisine), idli (found in Indian cuisine), atole (found in Mexican cuisine)
    • Vegetables: sauerkraut, fermented pickles, curtido (found in Salvadoran cuisine) kimchi (found in Korean cuisine) and tempeh and miso (found in Japanese cuisine)
  • Your healthcare provider many suggest taking a probiotic supplement to increase your good gut bacteria, particularly if you have recently taken antibiotics.
Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE

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