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The Gut Health/Blood Sugar Connection You Need To Know About

Image by Kristen Curette Hines / Stocksy
March 3, 2019

Half of the people walking around today have a serious blood sugar problem, and many of them don't even know it. Yes, you read that correctly: 50 percent of adults living in the United States today have diabetes or prediabetes, and even more are suffering from other forms of insulin-resistance-driven blood sugar problems like PCOS and metabolic syndrome.

And sadly, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that up to 50 percent of those people with insulin resistance and prediabetes will end up with full-blown type 2 diabetes if they don't make important changes to their lifestyle.

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Understanding the basics of blood sugar balance.

You likely know that the food you eat on a daily basis directly affects your blood sugar. It's a pretty simple formula: The more sugar you eat, whether it is in the form of carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, sugar, or fruit, the more likely your blood sugar is to be elevated. When you eat any of these things, your blood sugar spikes, but when these sources make up the majority of your diet, your blood sugar is constantly elevated, and this puts you on the path to diabetes and other metabolic health problems.

You've probably heard that the father of medicine, Hippocrates, said, "All disease begins in the gut." Well, he could not have been more right. A growing amount of research is discovering that underlying gut problems are a factor—if not a major factor—in a wide range of diseases, from depression to lupus. Blood sugar problems are no exception.

Connecting gut health and blood sugar problems.

The food you eat can affect your blood sugar, but it can also change your microbiome. Interestingly, many of the same foods that spike blood sugar also have been shown to wreck your gut health. For example, artificial sweeteners have been implicated for years in poor microbiome health and bacterial imbalances in the gut.

Since food can directly affect both of these areas of your health—it would only make sense that focusing on healing your gut would also help to rebalance your blood sugar. And that's exactly what the latest research is implying.

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Interpreting the science connecting the blood sugar and the microbiome.

One of the most recent studies, published in the journal mSphere, looked at the type 2 diabetes drug Acarbose and how it changed animals' microbiome composition to favor bacteria that played a role in controlling blood sugar. Even when those animals ate a higher-starch diet while on this medication, their microbiomes still contained higher levels of the beneficial bacteria Bacteroidaceae and Bifidobacteriaceae and lower levels of the bad bacteria Verruocomicorbiacea and Bacteroidales S24-7. However, once the medication was stopped, these microbiome changes went away as well.

Another study from the Center for Individualized Medicine at the Mayo Clinic followed a group of 300 people over the course of six days. The researchers looked at their glycemic responses and found that when taking into account the foods they ate and number of calories they consumed, they could only accurately predict blood sugar between 32 and 40 percent of the time. But when they looked at the specific bacteria in the microbiomes of each individual, they were able to accurately predict blood sugar response 62 percent of the time.

When you look at other studies that surround blood sugar or the gut, you can see the direct correlation your gut health has on blood sugar. Those who are overweight or struggle with weight loss resistance—a symptom of underlying metabolic problems—tend to have lower microbiome diversity1 with lower amounts of the beneficial bacteria and higher amounts of harmful ones. In another fascinating study2, scientists were able to transplant the microbiome of diabetic mice into healthy mice to make them diabetic as well, without changing their diets.

Tackling blood sugar problems with a low-carb diet.

You can also take into consideration the research surrounding the increasingly popular ketogenic diet. One of the biggest health benefits of this high-fat, moderate protein, and low-carb diet is its ability to reduce inflammation, lower insulin levels, and improve insulin receptor site sensitivity. It can be so powerful at controlling blood sugar that it can even reverse symptoms of type 2 diabetes in just 10 weeks! Interestingly, the ketogenic diet has also been shown to change the microbiome in beneficial ways. It's no coincidence that diets high in sugar—the opposite of a ketogenic diet—can contribute to candida overgrowth, which is linked to blood sugar problems and an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

While more research needs to be done to learn more about exactly how the microbiome influences blood sugar, we can't deny that it plays a significant role. And just as Hippocrates once said, "All disease begins in the gut,"’ we could also look to his words "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food" for our first steps in not only managing blood sugar but healing our gut and restoring microbiome balance.

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William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.

Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.

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