Early results from an on-going study have suggested that different types of gut bacteria could contribute to, or protect against, the development of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California have found that those with higher levels of Coprococcus were more likely to have greater insulin sensitivity, while people with raised levels of Flavonifractor tended to have a lower level of insulin sensitivity.

The leading researcher, Dr Mark Goodarzi, said it raised crucial questions, saying: “The big question we’re hoping to address is: Did the microbiome differences cause the diabetes, or did the diabetes cause the microbiome differences?”

It follows years of research into the make-up of the microbiome to try to understand the development of diabetes. The digestive tract is home to microorganisms including fungi, bacteria and viruses which are thought to be affected by diet and medication.

Previous research has found reduced levels of a certain bacteria type in people who don’t process insulin properly. This bacteria is responsible for producing a fatty acid called butyrate.

In this latest research – the Microbiome and Insulin Longitudinal Evaluation Study (MILES) – data has been collected since 2018 from Black and non-Hispanic white adults aged between 40 and 80.

Data from 352 people without known diabetes was examined, with participants asked to attend a clinic three times and collect stool samples before visiting their appointment.

Genetic sequencing was carried out on the stools, while the participants answered questions about their diet and took a glucose tolerance test.

The team analysed the stool samples, looking at the links between the bacteria they found and the participant’s ability to sustain normal insulin levels.

They found that Coprococcus and related bacteria created a network of bacteria that was found to be beneficial for insulin sensitivity. Meanwhile, Flavonifractor was associated with insulin resistance.

The study continues, with Dr Goodarzi saying it is too early to know how dietary changes may reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes.

He said: “As far as the idea of taking probiotics, that would really be somewhat experimental. We need more research to identify the specific bacteria that we need to be modulating to prevent or treat diabetes, but it’s coming, probably in the next five to 10 years.”

The study has been published in the journal Diabetes.

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