Can Bacteria in Your Gut Stop Your Development of Diabetes?

In your lower intestine, you have enormous numbers of bacteria and other micro-organisms – ten times more than the number of cells you have – and your wellness depends on these tiny passengers. Bacteria give you energy and vitamins, and help you to digest your food. ‘Good’ commensal bacteria in your intestine are your line of defence against the ‘bad’ bacteria, like Salmonella, that cause infections, and also contribute to the biochemical reactions that build up and maintain your body.  However, when these bacteria become unbalanced, inflamed or damaged, your wellbeing is at risk.


The most common damage that faulty commensal bacteria can do is in the intestine itself, as the wrong intestinal bacteria can lead to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but your liver can also suffer when your intestinal bacteria are unbalanced. However, researchers of the University of Toronto and the University of Bern have discovered that this imbalance can also affect your risk of developing diabetes.


When you are young, you can get diabetes due to your insulin-producing cells in your pancreas being damages by your immune cells. This is happening more and more and some doctors even refer to it as a diabetes epidemic. This increase has come over the last 40 years as homes and environments have become cleaner and more hygienic. There is currently no cure for a child with diabetes, but with a diagnosis comes a plan for life-long treatment.


However, 30 years ago Japanese investigators noticed, quite by chance, that a strain of NOD laboratory mice tended to get diabetes, and that these mice had many of the same genes that make some humans susceptible to the disease. Therefore, these later teams of researchers, led by Professor Jayne Danska at the Sick Children’s Hospital of the University of Toronto and Professor Andrew Macpherson in the Clinic for Visceral Surgery and Medicine at the Inselspital and the University of Bern, have applied these principles to their own research, and found that intestinal bacteria, especially in male mice, can produce biochemicals and hormones that stop diabetes developing.


Andrew Macpherson, of the University Bern, said ‘We hope that our new understanding of how intestinal bacteria may protect susceptible children from developing diabetes, will allow us to start to develop new treatments to stop children getting the disease.’

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