Every human digestive system is home to trillions of bacterial cells, known as a microbiota. In fact, there are more bacteria in a person’s digestive tract than there are human cells in their entire body. These bacteria play an essential role in digestion, breaking down otherwise indigestible nutrients, into compounds that humans can use. This study finds that increased consumption of fiber can lead to a dramatic reduction in symptoms for patients with Type 2 Diabetes.
Although dietary fiber is indigestible to humans, it is fermentable by the gut microbiota. The gut bacteria ferment the dietary fiber and break it down into short fatty acids, which are essential for moderating glucose, or sugar, concentration, and maintaining proper human health. It is when these fatty acid molecules are lacking that the effects of Type 2 Diabetes are most severe.
Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by an imbalance in glucose concentration in the blood. By increasing short chain fatty acids, excess glucose can be metabolized (broken down and utilized) and the effects of Type 2 Diabetes are greatly diminished. It should come as no surprise that a dietary solution can be offered for a disorder that is largely the result of dietary imbalances, but this study restates the critical importance of the gut microbiota in digestion, and diabetes research. Because though many essential nutrients are indigestible to by humans, there is a lot more at play in digestion than the human physiology.
This study was published in Science Magazine, and serves as a reminder that the gut microbiota is a complex ecosystem that differs greatly from person to person depending on a variety of factors. The relationship between gut bacteria and humans is a mutually beneficial one, as the human consumes fiber, which the bacteria breaks down into usable compounds, which both bacteria and human can utilize. This research may serve to shift the focus in diabetes treatment from dietary glucose, to a more comprehensive understanding of digestive processes.
Zhao L, Zhang F, Ding X, Wu G, Lam YY, et al., (2018) Gut bacteria selectively promoted by dietary fibers alleviate type 2 diabetes. Science 359 (6380), 1151-1156