A high-fibre diet has been shown to protect animals from developing type 1 diabetes, with studies now scheduled to see if the outcome is the same in humans.
Scientists from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia had bred mice to develop type 1 diabetes, and those fed a high-fibre diet were found to be nearly entirely protected from the condition.
“What we saw was dramatic,” said lead author Charles Mackay, an immunologist at Monash. “When we give the diet to mice that spontaneously develop type 1 diabetes, we could almost completely eliminate their disease.”
The diet Mackay and colleagues gave the mice was rich in fibre and broken down by fermentation in the lower intestine to form molecules called short-chain fatty acids.
It is these short-chain fatty acids – specifically acetate and butyrate – that researchers believe could inhibit responses of the immune system, and be used to treat other health disorders such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Alongside the mice fed the high-fibre diet, a control group was treated with a normal diet not rich in fibre. Seventy per cent of those animals had developed type 1 diabetes after 30 weeks.
Mackay’s team says it is too early, though, to know whether the diet or other “medicinal foods” could protect people from type 1 diabetes.
“There have been frustrations in the past that findings in these animals have not translated particularly well to human patients, but at other times they do,” he said. “But we think our study establishes the concept that we can stop a disease with natural medicinal food.”
If forthcoming trials in humans show a high-fibre diet could slow or prevent type 1 diabetes, the findings will be of interest for treating early-onset diabetes in children. Mackay suggested that medicinal food could be consumed as a powder on meals or dissolved in a drink.
The study has been published online in the journal Nature Immunology.

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