Medicinal Diet May Protect Against Type 1 Diabetes

Eating digestion resistant starches observed to prevent diabetes.

Findings from a new study published by Nature Immunology demonstrate that a specific diet could protect against the development of type 1 diabetes. The authors reported that this “medicinal diet” yields large amounts the acetate and butyrate fatty acids, and positively impacts the immune system.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where T cells destroy insulin-producing cells, which leads to uncontrolled blood glucose levels.

The special diet includes resistant starches, which are found in fruit and vegetables. These starches do not undergo digestion and pass through the colon to be broken down by gut bacteria.

“The Western diet affects our gut microbiota and the production of these short-chain fatty acids,” said researcher Eliana Mariño, MD. “Our research found that feeding mice that spontaneously develop type 1 (autoimmune) diabetes diets that release high levels of natural metabolites such as acetate or butyrate improved the integrity of the gut lining, reduced pro-inflammatory factors, and promoted immune tolerance.”

The process of bypassing digestion was observed to create acetate and butyrate, which produced a protective effect against type 1 diabetes in mice models, according to the study.

“We found this had an enormous impact on the development of type 1 diabetes in diabetes prone mice,” Dr Mariño said.

The authors said that these findings show how non-drug therapies, such as diets and gut bacteria, may play a significant role in preventing or treating type 1 diabetes. Other research has implicated diet in improving symptoms or other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

“The findings illustrate the dawn of a new era in treating human disease with medicinal foods,” said senior study author Charles Mackay, PhD. “The materials we used are something you can digest that is comprised of natural products — resistant starches are a normal part of our diet. The diets we used are highly efficient at releasing beneficial metabolites. I would describe them as an extreme superfood.”

However, the authors cautioned that the process did not just involve eating certain vegetables and high-fiber foods. If implemented in humans, the diet would need to be managed by nutritionists, dietitians, and clinicians, according to the study.

The promising results showed overall that dietary interventions could protect against type 1 diabetes and, potentially, other immune disorders.

The authors hope to continue their study in clinical trials to determine how this medicinal diet may impact type 1 diabetes development in humans. Additionally, the study authors are planning to research the effects of the diet on obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease.

“The key next steps will be to understand, through proper clinical studies, how these results might be translated to patients at-risk or living with type 1 diabetes to prevent or delay progression,” Dr Mackay concluded.