Bacteria is often seen as one of the of the biggest villains in the fight for staying healthy – often literally. Half of the diseases from Oregon Trail are bacterial, and one of the most popular board games is a race to cure a disease before it spreads across the planet. But recently bacteria have started to become the heroes in the health world. Researchers have found that millions of tiny microbes – bacteria and other organisms – live throughout your body and actually help keep you healthy.
“Some studies have even shown that boosting your microbiome (the name given to all those colonies of bacteria) through probiotics can potentially help manage diabetes.”
How Your Microbiome Works
The different microorganisms that make up your microbiome live throughout your entire body: your gut, throat, ears, nose, and skin to name a few areas. Most of these are good. They help digest food, boost your immune system, help control weight, and perform any number of other functions that we’re just beginning to learn about.
These microorganisms come mostly from your environment and diet. Antibiotics, illnesses, and diets with lots of processed foods and sugar tend to kill off a lot of the variety in your microbiome. Luckily, eating plants, fiber, and fermented foods are great ways to increase the number of good microorganisms and get your body back on track.
Probiotics are also great ways to balance out your microbiome with good bacteria. Many probiotics come as supplements that you can take each day. Others are in foods that you can find at many grocery stores: Yogurt, kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi.
Probiotics & Diabetes Management
The importance of a balanced microbiome is important for overall health, but its specific relationship to diabetes is only just now being examined. Researchers have started to look at how adding probiotics to a person’s diet affects markers of diabetes. Initial tests have shown some promising results. Several studies link probiotics to a decrease in fasting blood glucose levels, HbA1c levels, and fasting insulin levels. This is great news for people with diabetes, as it indicates that there may be another method to help manage the condition.
But these studies are just a start. The studies were too different from each other to get conclusive results and didn’t do a great job of figuring out exactly what kind or how much of a probiotic to take. Each study looked at different amounts of people for different lengths of time and measured slightly different things. More studies will have to be done to see if these results were a one-time instance or if they’re the real deal.
In the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more about your own microbiome, there are a number of at-home testing kits available from companies like uBiome, uBiota, and Viome. These kits will let you take test samples of different areas of your body, send them in for processing, and see the results. Taking the tests at least once a year may be helpful. That way, you’ll be able to see how the microorganisms in your body change with different diets, environments, illnesses, and other factors.
Molly Maloof, MD
Physician, technologist, and entrepreneur
Head of Medical Science at Sano Intelligence
Medical advisor/strategy consultant to over 20 companies in biotechnology, digital health, nutrition, and food industries