Bacterial By-Product May Treat Diabetes

Postbiotics observed to reduce blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity in patients with diabetes.

The human body is host to trillions of bacteria, with some found to be beneficial and others found to be harmful. The microorganisms that inhabit the body produce postbiotics, which are the by-products of bacteria.

A novel study published in Cell Metabolism suggests that postbiotics may be able to lower blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity. This may lead to new treatments for diabetes, where blood glucose levels are often uncontrolled and insulin sensitivity is diminished.

"We know that gut bacteria, often called the microbiome, send inflammation signals that change how well insulin works to lower blood glucose,” said senior study author Jonathan Schertzer, PhD.

Gut bacteria has proven important for many biological processes, including digestion and overall health. Other studies have shown that gut bacteria may be essential for medication efficacy. However, other researchers have found that bacteria may increase inflammation, which has been implicated in several diseases.

"It was previously thought that bacteria only caused problems such as higher inflammation and higher blood glucose,” Dr Schertzer said. “But this is only half of the story. We discovered that a specific component of bacteria actually lowers blood glucose and allows insulin to work better during obesity.”

Currently, many individuals take probiotics for health benefits, including treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and skin conditions. Probiotics replace the healthy gut bacteria that may have been lost for a number of reasons. Individuals also take prebiotics to promote the growth of the gut microbiome.

While postbiotics are the waste generated by bacteria, understanding their role in health could lead to new treatments.

"Understanding how different parts of bacteria control glucose could lead to new therapies that avoid some of the problems with probiotics or prebiotics,” Dr Schertzer said. “We have found a ‘postbiotic’ that lowers blood glucose during obesity."

Overweight or obesity can lead to high levels of insulin and glucose, which are associated with type 2 diabetes. Developing a way to resensitize patients to insulin and reduce blood glucose levels could be groundbreaking for diabetes treatment, according to the study.

The authors of the study are working to create bacterial-based treatments for use in patients with prediabetes. If the drugs can successfully reduce blood glucose levels, the authors believe developing diabetes may be possible. Currently, they have seen success with animal studies that include a drug used for bone cancer, according to the study.

"But we haven't understood what triggers elevated blood glucose," Dr Schertzer concluded. "This is significant because only some individuals with obesity develop prediabetes. Blood glucose is influenced by our genes, the food we eat, and the bacteria in our gut."