Go with your Gut! By: Courtney Woo

The gut. The word itself sounds funny, but it’s actually pretty essential for our bodies. Gut health, probiotics, prebiotics, and healthy bacteria are all current health buzzwords, and for good reason. Our gut, or digestive system, is more than a temporary holding space for your food. And, hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll be convinced of its superpowers (within reason).Woo1

Anatomy Basics

Let’s start with some general anatomy: the intestines (large and small) house trillions of bacteria, and are also known as the gut microbiome. These bacteria have a working space of about 2700 square feet of your intestines.1 In other words, your bacteria do their dirty work in a space the size of a tennis court!1 The gut microbiome is referred to as a human organ, which shows how important it is to our health.

Roles of the Gut Bacteria

Gut bacteria play many roles in the body: digestion, immune function, protection of the gut tissues, and metabolism (processes to maintain life).2 Talk about the ultimate multi-taskers! Recently, research shows the connection between gut bacteria and metabolic diseases. Some of the disease connections include Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM). But why should you care? T2DM is expected to affect about 642 million adults by the year 2040.3 Not to put a damper on the situation, but the reality is that by 2040, 1 in 10 adults will have diabetes.

Back to Basics: Diabetes

Before diving into the connection of the gut microbiome and T2DM, let’s quickly review what diabetes is. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble breaking down and using sugars, or carbohydrates. Because the body does not respond to insulin, a hormone that helps store sugars, blood sugar levels in the body rise. And when your blood sugar levels are constantly high, you could have problems with your eyes, kidneys, and feet later on. So you see why controlling and preventing diabetes is so important.

Effect of Bacteria on Diabetes

Now back to the gut. You have a gut microbiome make up that is specific to you. Although everyone has their own microbiome population, scientists are beginning to notice patterns in people. For instance, if you have diabetes, your gut is likely inhabited by a higher number of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria phyla (bacteria families).4 A larger portion of bacterial species from these families in the gut may contribute to diabetic symptoms. The difference in bacteria families and species in the gut is suspected to be a reason for diseases like diabetes.5

This imbalance in gut bacteria composition, or dysbiosis, can contribute to symptoms like inflammation (swelling).6 Studies have found that certain intestinal bacteria may activate inflammatory systems. Why is this relevant? Inflammation is observed in those with diabetes.7 And if bacteria are the culprit, then maybe we can use good bacteria to combat the bad bacteria.

Knowing that dysbiosis, can have an effect on disease, how can we make our guts healthy? Currently, a few main changes studied include diet, probiotics, and prebiotics. Probiotics are those good bacteria that help with digestion, boosting the immune system, and metabolism.8 And prebiotics (food for the good bacteria) activate the probiotics to so they can do their job. When good bacteria is in the gut, it competes with the bad bacteria, lowering blood sugar and improving immunity.9 Although this was observed in many studies, additional research is needed to confirm this.woo2.jpg

Changing the Gut Environment

But how do we incorporate probiotics and prebiotics in the diet? Nowadays, there are a whole host of probiotic-containing foods that line grocery shelves. Be sure to check product labels for the terms “live” and “active” cultures. Some examples of probiotic rich foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi

Double up the powers of probiotics by combining them with prebiotics! As mentioned earlier, prebiotics are non-digestible food fibers that serve as food for probiotics. The combination of probiotics and prebiotics, or symbiotics, is found to help probiotics survive and stimulate growth of good intestinal tract bacteria.10 Try adding some of these prebiotic containing foods to your diet:

  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas (on the greener side)
  • Beans (chickpeas, green beans, kidney beans, etc.)
  • Honey and Maple Syrup
  • Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds
  • Sweet Potatoes

Supplement Recommendations

Probiotics are also available in capsule form, another easy way to include them in your diet. If you haven’t taken probiotics before, it’s never too late to start. And, you don’t need to have diabetes to benefit from the effects. When looking for probiotic supplements, choose products that contain a variety of strains and billions of colony forming units (CFUs). And more specifically related to diabetes, supplement with Lactobacillus species showed results in lowering blood sugar levels.9 Again, as previously mentioned, this claim needs more research.

The Take-Away

By now you’ve read about the versatility of probiotics and how they support the immune system. Good bacteria strengthen the intestinal tissues to promote healthy digestion, metabolism, and immunity. But also, they may play a role in treating diseases like diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels.

However, hold on a second before you go telling your family, friends, and neighbors that probiotics cure diabetes. Remember that science continually evolves and a mountain of research is necessary before a claim becomes a fact. That being said, taking and eating probiotics and prebiotics is nearly harmless and you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Your bodies will thank you for the boost of helpful bacteria.



  1. Difference between small and large intestine. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg website. http://www.chp.edu/our-services/transplant/intestine/education/about-small-large-intestines. Accessed June 20, 2017.
  2. Jandhyala SM, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Reddy DN. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(29):8787-8803. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i29.8787.
  3. IDF Atlas – 7th Diabetes Atlas Website. http://www.diabetesatlas.org/. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  4. Saez-Lara MJ, Robles-Sanchez C, Ruiz-Ojeda FJ, Plaza-Diaz J, Gil A. Effects of probiotics and synbiotics on obesity, insulin resistance syndrome, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A review of human clinical trials. Int J Mol Sci. 2016;17(6):10.3390/ijms17060928.
  5. Brahe LK, Astrup A, Larsen LH. Can we prevent obesity-related metabolic diseases by dietary modulation of the gut microbiota? Adv Nutr. 2016;7(1):90-101.
  6. Palacios T, Vitetta L, Coulson S, Madigan CD, Denyer GS, Caterson ID. The effect of a novel probiotic on metabolic biomarkers in adults with prediabetes and recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes mellitus: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2017;18(1):x.
  7. Wegielska I, Suliburska J. The role of intestinal microbiota in the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases. Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment. 2016;15(2):201-211.
  8. Karamali M, Dadkhah F, Sadrkhanlou M, et al. Effects of probiotic supplementation on glycaemic control and lipid profiles in gestational diabetes: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Diabetes Metab. 2016;42(4):234-241.
  9. Blandino G, Inturri R, Lazzara F, Di Rosa M, Malaguarnera L. Impact of gut microbiota on diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Metab. 2016;42(5):303-315.
  10. Brahe LK, Astrup A, Larsen LH. Can we prevent obesity-related metabolic diseases by dietary modulation of the gut microbiota? Adv Nutr. 2016;7(1):90-101.


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