10 ways probiotics fight diabetes
America’s diabetes epidemic won’t end anytime soon. Sadly, I have no silver bullet to stop that runaway train. But I can tell you where there’s promise, and offer my advice to diabetics and those at risk, so they can put up a fight.
It’s not all gloom and doom.
Indeed, research pours in every day showing promising new ways to prevent and push back against diabetes.
Playing a starring role in that research?
Probiotics give diabetes a punch in the gut
Yes, probiotics! Those billions of good bacteria we all have zooming around in our lower gut.
Research is getting positive results from studies looking at probiotics to treat or prevent type 2 diabetes.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands the power and importance of the microscopic health titans residing in our gut or microbiome—some 1,000 different strains.
Nor should it surprise anyone who recognizes that diabetes, when all is said and done, is about diet, digestion, and blood sugar.
Indeed, the word “probiotic” means “for life.” Without them, your health will suffer, with outcomes ranging from annoying to very serious.
10 ways probiotics punch diabetes in the gut
Let’s take a look at where and how our feisty microorganisms push back against diabetes and its predecessor, prediabetes, by:
- Helping manage weight
- Lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Improving digestive function and comfort
- Keeping the immune system strong
- Combating anxiety and depression
- Improving mood and brain functions
- Aiding the absorption and utilization of essential minerals, such as calcium, zinc, and iron
- Helping the body produce several kinds of B-vitamin
- Enhancing communication between the brain and the intestinal tract
- Supporting healthy longevity overall
All of these outcomes are essential for everyone, of course. But the health threats and lifestyle burdens imposed by diabetes—to say nothing of its increasing prevalence—make any good news all the more important.
Here’s just a taste of that good news.
Studies indicate that a combination of dietary improvements and proper probiotic supplementation, especially with the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria strains, may be the best bet for anyone with prediabetes or diabetes.
One study put healthy adults on an unhealthy, high trans-fat, high processed food diet—sadly typical in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
The once healthy adults showed as much as a 27 percent reduction in insulin sensitivity. And when the subjects were given probiotic supplements, with no change in that horrific diet, the probiotics brought them back to normal insulin functioning.
Another study transplanted good bacteria from healthy mice into obese mice with symptoms of diabetes. Insulin resistance, an unmistakable diabetes red flag, was reduced significantly in the unhealthy mice, and insulin sensitivity increased—two critical indicators that the unhealthy mice were becoming healthier.
Just as important, the unhealthy mice lost enough weight over time to resemble the lean, healthy mice. What more could you ask for to tackle diabetes?
The improvements were clearly linked to probiotic diversity in the healthy mice biomes—a terrifically important piece of what I might call the intricate dance of the probiotics.
Diversity—let a thousand bacteria sing
It’s a bit hard to wrap the mind around just how many bacteria are alive and kicking in our guts. Some data indicate that we have more bacterial cells in us than we have human cells—an estimated 10 times more.
Wow! It’s like each one of our human cells has its own dedicated entourage of 10 specialists, working for us 24 x 7.
Those specialists come in some 1,000 different strains, each with its own distinct duty, and many with several duties. So the more strains you have in your microbiome, the better.
Research tells us, for example, that one strain of probiotics was linked to reducing susceptibility to type 1 diabetes, while another helped type 2 diabetes patients—helping manage insulin sensitivity, control inflammation, and improve hunger control mechanisms and liver function.
Two entirely different problems—potentially solved. Takeaway? As I said—the more diverse strains in your microbiome, the better.
There are three main ways to populate the gut with good bacteria:
- From the environment—the bacteria and other microorganisms around us
- From your diet
- From supplements
It’s easy to load up on bacteria from the environment. Just be in it. Bacteria will come to you, from everywhere, all the time.
And it’s easy enough to get more probiotics in your diet.
Fermented, unpasteurized foods
- Tempeh–fermented soybeans
- Kimchee–fermented Korean cabbage
- Miso–fermented barley paste
- Sauerkraut–fermented cabbage
- Yogurt–fermented milk with active probiotic bacteria
- Kefir–fermented milk
- Kombucha–black or green fermented tea
Note that unpasteurized is essential—pasteurization kills the very bacteria you’re aiming to reinforce.
Question: how much of these food types is the right amount?
Answer: there isn’t a right amount. You can’t overdose on healthy food. You can unwittingly underdose, though. The probiotic content of any food varies wildly, even from bite to bite. That’s why probiotic supplements are your microbiome’s best friends.
Now, say hello to pre-biotics.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are probiotics’ favorite food, the ideal support for their growth and reproduction. They’re found in high-fiber foods like:
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens
- Wheat bran
- Wheat flour and baked wheat products
- Leafy greens: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and greens from mustard, collard, beet, turnip plants.
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower. (Bonus: people whose diets include cruciferous vegetables tend to have fewer cancers than those who rarely eat them.)
- Beans and legumes, which release short chain fatty acids (SCFA) and are high in fiber that helps support the microbiome
Get plenty of these in your diet, and you’ll always have a well-fed army of probiotics, all with the shared goal of keeping you healthy and happy.
Unfortunately, while you should still eat plenty of healthy foods that are high in probiotics or prebiotics, your powerful stomach acids can really do a number on the live bacteria that actually make it into your lower gut where they do their best work.
That’s where our supplement recommendation comes in.
Supplements for certainty
When shopping for supplements, and we urge you to do so, especially if you’re prediabetic or diabetic, we recommend a formulation that:
- Contains the most strains of bacteria, including at least acidophilus, L. fermentum, L. rhamnosus, B. longum, and B. bifidum
- Includes a yeast—but not if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS} or SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
- Is in a microencapsulated or enteric Stomach acid can kill off most of your probiotic before it goes to work in your gut. So a protective coating will help ensure it arrives safely right where it needs to be.
- Is not beyond its expiration date—to ensure the supplement contains live organisms.
- Contains at least 10 billion Colony Forming Units (CFUs). They’re kind of the probiotic equivalent of a beehive, the minimum number of organisms necessary to create new generations.
- Has a “USP Verified” seal. USP is a non-profit analytic laboratory that checks the accuracy of a formulation’s claimed contents. Testing is voluntary—so if a company is willing to have its products tested, that tends to be a higher-quality product.
Newport Natural Health, for example, offers a probiotic formula made up of six unique strains of beneficial bacteria, each conferring its own benefit to the gut, the immune system and the body as a whole.
Plus, it’s microencapsulated to ensure all 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) can survive your powerful stomach acids and arrive safely in the intestines, where they do their most important work. You can learn more about this top-notch probiotic here.
For prebiotics, look for probiotic supplements with at least one of the following:
- Inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), for fiber
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) for enhanced digestive function.
So keep your diets healthy, and your pre-and probiotics in full force.
And above all, keep your hopes high. Help is coming.
- Noftall, Christopher. The Health Benefits of Probiotics for Diabetics. Diabetes Daily. Published NA. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
- Probiotics for the Management of Diabetes. Diabetes in Control. Published August 6, 2016. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
- Surprising Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics for Diabetes. The Diabetes Council. Updated June 15, 2016. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. Understanding Type 2 Diabetes. Reviewed March 31, 2016. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
- Saxena Behl, Maneera. Probiotics And Diabetes: What Amazing New Research Reveals” Published August 8, 2017. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
- Roland, James. Signs of Insulin Resistance. Reviewed August 17, 2017. Last accessed September 2, 2017.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: September 13, 2020
Originally Published: September 18, 2017