Is Type 1 Diabetes Caused by the Gut?

By Dr. Don Davis


Many of our diseases are linked other to conditions and illnesses.  For instance, rheumatoid arthritis is common with heart disease, and cancer is common in obesity.  The connections between these diseases are related to many factors like, genetics and toxic exposure but that’s not the only reason that a person with one disease will likely get another.


We have known for quite a while that the intestines and the bacteria that live there have an effect on obesity, mood disorders, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and even effect behavior.  Now I’ll have to add another to the list – Type 1 Diabetes.


Type 1 Diabetes (not Type 2) is an autoimmune condition that is caused by your body mistakenly attacking your pancreas cells that make insulin.  Like other autoimmune diseases, the immune system malfunctions, becomes hyper-aggressive and launches an attack on your own body.  This is similar to other less serious immune troubles like food allergies, and hay fever that are caused by the immune system’s over-zealous response to pollen or food. – There is research that connects the microbiome of children to future development of allergy as well.


In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the authors found that people with type 1 diabetes had “an inflammatory signature and microbiome” that differed from people that don’t have diabetes”.  In a way, this shouldn’t be surprising, because diabetics commonly have intestinal problems.


Usually, this kind of study is done by analyzing stool samples, but in this study, they used endoscopy to directly observe the upper part of the small intestine.  During observation, biopsies were provided to assess the health of the intestinal wall along with samples of the gut bacteria.


It turned out that people with Type 1 diabetes showed substantially more signs of inflammation in the gut wall than in normal people or even individuals that had celiac disease – the life-threatening disorder caused by gluten consumption.


The researchers were able to link the inflammation to 10 different genes.  If that wasn’t enough, the study showed that in diabetics, the bacterial flora of the gut was clearly different from the other two groups.


In an earlier study, researchers divided two groups of mice, one with normal living conditions and the other that was raised germ free with no bacteria in their intestines.  Interestingly, the germ-free mice developed diabetes and the normal raised mice did not.


These two studies clearly show that the bacteria of the gut have a direct effect on the development of diabetes.  We don’t know yet exactly which bacteria are most important in the development of Type 1 diabetes but this will come in future studies.


The “Perfect Storm” of gut inflammation.


There are many factors that cause diabetes and according to this research, the 4 most important factors are:


  • Unbalanced bacteria in the gut
  • A “leaky” intestinal inner layer from inflammation
  • An altered immune response
  • The degree of genetic susceptibility


When all of these factors are present, a “perfect storm” may arise resulting in the development of diabetes and the defective tolerance for our own tissues.  The scary thing here is that this is the exact same sequence to develop other auto-immune conditions like MS, Lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.


This is not the only pathway where the gut bacteria involved in disease, and we can expect that more diseases will be related to the altered composition the bacteria that we house in our intestines.  Hopefully, more and more people will gain increasing respect of a healthy gut microbiome.


What can we do to decrease the development of Type 1 diabetes?


  • Make sure that you are eating a diet – preferably Paleo – that emphasizes fresh food from farmer’s markets that still have the natural bacteria in place, and if not, then take broad based probiotics and prebiotics.


  • Make an effort to balance and support your immune system with healthy levels of Vitamin D, fish oil and antioxidants.


  • Get your gut tested by a doc specializing in Functional Medicine that understands the inflammatory cycle of your intestines and has access to current cutting edge therapies to bring your GI system back into balance.


Health is on the way. 



Endocrine Society. “Type 1 diabetes linked to gut inflammation, bacteria changes.”  ScienceDaily, 19 January 2017.


Lorenzo Piemonti et al. Duodenal mucosa of patients with type 1 diabetes shows
   distinctive inflammatory profile and microbiotaJournal of Clinical Endocrinology &
   Metabolism, January 2017 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2016-3222




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