Diabetes And The Gut

It has long been known that insulin resistance -- when an individual’s cells don’t respond well to insulin -- is a precursor of Type 2 Diabetes. This condition is present in about 25% of Americans and increasing in frequency.

There’s a common association between abdominal obesity and insulin resistance, and the theory is that inflammation messages from fat cells lead to the insulin resistance. But fat cells may not be the only source of inflammation.

In a recent study from Toronto, scientists found that the gastrointestinal tract might also be involved. They were able to generate intestinal inflammation by feeding a high fat/high calorie diet to mice and to humans. This led to a breakdown in the intestinal lining (leaky gut syndrome) through which bacterial byproducts reach the circulation and initiate insulin resistance. What was remarkable was that the insulin resistance (and presumably subsequent diabetes) could be prevented by giving anti-inflammatory medications such as those used in colitis patients.

Since the gastrointestinal tract is the site of the majority of our immune systems and the location of the mass of organisms called  the microbiota, it’s not surprising that it could be involved in an inflammatory condition like insulin resistance In fact, it has been demonstrated that fecal microbial transplantation can reverse insulin resistance). But the impact of anti-inflammatory treatment in this study was surprising and also encouraging.

Using the integrative medicine model, one should be able to reduce intestinal inflammation by a number of non-pharmacologic measures:

  • A low inflammation diet that reduces high fat foods and known food allergens (possibly gluten) and increases fiber to feed healthy gut flora.
  • Anti-inflammatory agents such as fish oil, circumin, quercetin and bioflavonoids.
  • Supplemental probiotics
  • Nutrients that heal the intestinal lining, such as glutamine, zinc, glucosamine, GLA.

Normalizing and balancing the intestinal environment offers many benefits. It’s possible that preventing diabetes can be added to the list.