Gut Microbiota Found to be Pivotal in Treatment with Diabetes Medication

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02 Jun 2017 --- A recent study at Sahlgrenska Academy and University of Girona indicates that the clinical effect of metformin is achieved through modulation of the gut microbiota, providing a clearer picture of how the classic diabetes medication works. The human body contains more bacteria than human cells. Most of these bacteria exist in the gut, which is the most densely populated ecosystem known today, where their genes (microbiome) complements our own genome with 1000-fold more genes.

“It is fascinating that it is not entirely clear how metformin works, although it has been used clinically for 60 years,” says Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor of Molecular Medicine, and the leading researcher behind the study published in Nature Medicine.

Fredrik Bäckhed’s research group at Sahlgrenska Academy has previously shown that the gut microbiota is altered in patients with type 2 diabetes and after bariatric surgery. By conducting a clinical study in patients with new onset diabetes, the group could clarify how the gut microbiome is affected by metformin.

Sequencing of the microbiome of 22 patients before and after treatment compared with a placebo-treated group of patients showed that the gut microbiome was altered dramatically within two months of treatment. Through experiments in the laboratory, the researchers demonstrated that metformin increases the growth of several bacterial species that are linked to improved metabolism.

“Transplantation of the gut microbiota from patients before and after treatment to bacteria-free mice showed that the metformin-modified microbiota may at least partially explain the good effects of metformin on blood glucose control,” says Bäckhed.

Some patients with type 2 diabetes can control their disease with metformin, while others are not helped. Perhaps this is due to their microbiome configuration. Moreover, the most common adverse events are intestinal problems such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.

“Imagine if we can change the intestinal flora in the future so that more people respond to treatment, and that adverse events can be reduced by changing the gut microbiota of patients who will take metformin,” concludes Fredrik Bäckhed.

The association between the gut microbiome and diabetes has been the topic of a number of studies over the past months. A study from the University of Otago, Wellington and the University of Auckland looked at how a naturally occurring probiotic reduces the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy and lowers fasting blood sugar, and found that a certain probiotic may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by nearly 70 percent.

Moreover, a study from the University of Eastern Finland found that a high concentration of indolepropionic acid protects against type 2 diabetes. Indolepropionic acid is a metabolite produced by intestinal bacteria, and its production is boosted by a fiber-rich diet. According to the researchers, the discovery provides additional insight into the role of intestinal bacteria in the interplay between diet, metabolism and health.

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