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Tue, 9 Oct, 2018Danielle McCarthy

Why you need to have a better understanding of your gut

Why you need to have a better understanding of your gut

With almost 2 in 3 Australian adults overweight or obese, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is significantly increasing in our nation.

While most people are aware that type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin, and gradually loses the ability to produce enough of it, most Aussies are unaware of the condition called prediabetes.

Prediabetes, the early condition that precedes type 2 diabetes, requires medical attention and is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers.

Nearly 40% of Australians may be living with prediabetes, but it does not necessarily have to progress into type 2 diabetes if managed appropriately.

Dr Dorit Samocha-Bonet, a Clinical Researcher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, within the Diabetes and Metabolism Division, has over 20 years of experience as a dietician. She believes new research into gut microbiome could be the key to managing prediabetes and stopping Aussies living the rest of their lives with type 2 diabetes.

“If caught early, we can reverse prediabetes and prevent years of suffering for millions of people,” she said.

When asked of the dangers of not having prediabetes diagnosed, Dr Samocha-Bonet said: “Well, the danger is firstly, that if prediabetes is not treated it may progress to type 2 diabetes with detrimental consequences of the elevated blood sugar on the body,” she explained. 

“Prediabetes is reversible if you’re aware and treated, and type 2 diabetes can be avoided for life, even if you have a strong family history of the disease.”

And now, research from the Garvan Institute is looking to understand the role gut bacterial makeup has on the potential of a common type 2 diabetes medication to be effective in an individual.

How can gut bacteria help?

 “Through understanding the unique microbiome in each of our guts, we can apply tailored treatments for better results.”

Dorit’s study collaborators, two researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, a partner of the Garvan Institute, found that people respond differently to the same dietary recommendation.

Using a device to track sugar levels continuously for days, the researchers were able to compare blood sugar response to the same food given to people who were of similar body mass index and age.  What they found was not what you would expect.

When given a food like a cookie compared to a piece of fruit with the same amount of carbohydrates, some people’s sugar levels would spike after the cookie more than the fruit (as you may expect), while others’ sugar level would spike more for the fruit than the cookie.

 “And then they looked for the differences between those people and they actually found that a lot of it could be explained by their individual gut microbiota features.”

“So, the discovery that the way you respond to a specific meal relates to your gut microbiota composition was revolutionary. The fact that you can treat people to their gut microbiota signature is still astounding,” Dr Samocha-Bonet said.

Garvan’s breakthrough research

Now, Garvan wants to trial whether this personalised diet may improve the response of people with prediabetes and early type 2 diabetes to a common diabetes medication. 

“We are going to trial this diet for the first time in people treated with the first-line medication in type 2 diabetes, called metformin. We are hoping to improve the way people respond to this medication.”

The study, called PREDICT, will measure treatment success by comparing patterns of sugar levels in the blood before and during the treatment.

One of the goals of the research is to understand who is more likely to benefit from this most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes medication, which does not improve sugar control in everybody.

“We want to come up with a tool to help clinicians in deciding how they’re going to treat a person. When a person has diabetes we still don’t know whether they’re likely to respond to a specific treatment, so we want to be able to give the clinician tools that are easily accessible, to decide how they’re going to treat people most beneficially for better health outcomes.”

Optimal treatment for a given individual will translate to better prospects to avoid the complications of type 2 diabetes. Helping the physician treat the person with diabetes more effectively for better disease outcome.”

How you can support the research

Contributing funds to organisations like the Garvan Institute is a good way to start, and you’ll be surprised how far your dollar goes.

As Dr Samocha-Bonet explains, funding will provide necessary resources to perform the clinical trial involving sufficient number of participants and using gold-standard tools to phenotype people properly.

“Together with our collaborators, we hope to benefit people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, not only in Australia but all over the world.”

To contribute to the Garvan Institute’s fight against prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, visit garvan.org.au.

THIS IS SPONSORED CONTENT BROUGHT TO YOU IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE GARVAN INSTITUTE.

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