In the future will your doctor prescribe gut bugs to treat type 2 diabetes? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. More than 400 different species of bacteria call the human gut “home.” These colonies of gut flora can contribute to the health of the host in numerous ways, such as limiting the growth of harmful bacteria, aiding the digestive process, producing certain vitamins, and boosting immune function. In fact, the varied roles of intestinal bacteria are so important that it is considered a “microbial organ.”
And now the latest research from the International Liver Congress 2012, which was the 47th annual meeting of the European Association for the study of the Liver, suggests that transplanting gut flora could even affect the course of several diseases, namely type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
A group of French researchers found in a 16-week animal model study that transplanting gut bacteria prevented the development of diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This benefit of gut microbiota was independent of obesity. The study involved two groups of germ-free mice who each were transplanted with gut microbiota. One of the groups received gut microbiota from mice exhibiting insulin resistance and liver steatosis. The other group received gut microbiota from normal, healthy mice. All mice were then fed a high-fat diet.
The mice receiving the healthy transplant remained healthy, with normal glucose levels and normal insulin sensitivity. Meanwhile, the mice receiving gut flora from unhealthy mice themselves developed the same symptoms; that is, rising liver fat levels and insulin resistance. These symptoms are indicators of liver disease and diabetes. Of the varied types of bacteria represented in the gut flora, Lachnospiraceae was noted as the species most connected to the development of fatty liver and insulin resistance.
Gut flora transplantation is already being done in humans with Clostridium difficile infections. Perhaps, in the future, this will also be used as a preventive method or treatment for type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Stephen C Vogt, PharmD
President and CEO BioPlus SP