How many times have you heard that eating sugar and processed food is damaging to your health? You’ve probably also heard that eating these foods can cause an imbalance in your gut bacteria and lead to further health problems originating in the gut. But did you know that your gut microbiome can also change your blood sugar level?
I’ve recently been tending to a sick relative in the hospital who has had some complications relating to gut health. Being in this environment was, for me, the perfect chance to learn some more about some of the things that humans suffer from, and I wanted to understand more what my relative was going through. So I did some research about damaged gut health and the implications and I discovered that aside from the obvious digestive impact, there is a connection between gut health and type 2 diabetes.
It goes both ways: eating too much of certain types of foods will inevitably lead to a rise in blood sugar levels, just by the very nature of foods like refined carbohydrates and simple sugars and how they’re absorbed into your blood. But some may also lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria in the gut and an increase in detrimental bacteria. Dietary factors aside, if you have a damaged gut microbiome, you could be eating incredibly healthily and still be putting yourself at risk of blood sugar-related conditions such as diabetes. Unbalanced gut microbiomes can cause blood sugar spikes, even without the addition of sugar-based and processed foods!
A 2014 study published in Nature found that a mouse could develop diabetes by simply swapping its stomach with a diabetic mouse. Without any intervention of diet for either mouse, this reversed which one had diabetes and which did not. Regardless of our dietary factors, our stomach composition can make an incredible difference in how we process sugars and the effects they have on our bodies. You can even predict which people are likely to have diabetes or not simply by analyzing their gut bacteria. Scientists of the Center of Individualized Medicine found they could get accurate predictions 62 percent of the time.
With almost half of Americans and over one-third of British people having or being at risk of having diabetes, this research is huge! It suggests a new and relatively simple way to minimize the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes within your lifetime. So how exactly do you go about balancing your gut bacteria and cultivating beneficial bacteria?
Get foods that are full of polyphenols
Polyphenols are plant compounds that can be found in many natural foods, especially those exposed to lots of sunlight as this helps them develop. These include cocoa, broccoli, and elderberries and blueberries, among many more. Polyphenols can’t be easily absorbed by most of our cells. So when we consume them, they often stay intact right until they’re almost in the intestines. Here they can help to increase the number of good bacteria by providing a nutritious environment for growth.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
This is a big one! Artificial sweeteners can confuse your digestive enzymes within your gut and lead to them breaking them down incorrectly without filtering the negative components. This leaves destructive compounds and alien chemicals contained in many artificial sweeteners, to run rampant in the gut and feed the bad bacteria that is present. A 2014 study found that one of the apparent benefits of artificial sweeteners, reduced weight, also came with the worrying side effect of spiking blood sugar levels and lower insulin response.
Avoid antibiotics if possible, especially long courses
Antibiotics are largely composed of different chemicals and derivatives of plants which will be alien to your gut in antibiotic form. This can cause a reaction in your gut which often promotes the growth of negative bacteria. Ampicillin was shown in particular to have quite a profound effect on increasing destructive gut bacteria in animal models. While your gut can recover after courses of antibiotics given the right attention to diet and health, it is advised that if you have blood sugar problems or are more at risk, that you avoid long courses where possible. Take all measures necessary afterward to restore a balance.
So taking care of your gut health should definitely be a top priority. There are many reasons, but with the increase of instances of diabetes in many Western countries, it seems now more than ever is the time to focus on the blood sugar/gut connection. Taking measures to keep a balanced gut will set your up to not become a part of the growing population living with blood sugar-related diseases!
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Photo: Alicia Petresc via Unsplash; Hannah Wei via Unsplash; Anastasia Dulgier via Unsplash