Scientists have discovered that compounds derived from some bacteria can lower blood sugar levels in obese people with prediabetes, possibly preventing diabetes itself from developing.
Scientists call the bacteria-derived compounds postbiotics. They are not like probiotics, which are whole, live bacteria people take to change the microbial environment of the gut to ward off disease and improve digestion.
Postbiotics instead are beneficial pieces of bacteria cell walls that are easily absorbed by the body, which seem to make insulin work better. Postbiotics can also be derived from disease-causing microbes, say researchers.
Role of insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that ferries glucose from food into cells to nourish the body.
In people with prediabetes, insulin becomes less effective at its job.
Postbiotics seem to boost the hormone’s effectiveness. At least that’s what researchers at McMaster University in Canada's Ontario province saw in experiments with obese mice.
Obesity is a risk factor for prediabetes, also known as metabolic syndrome. Other risk factors for metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.
Researchers say their work is designed to help obese individuals with prediabetes.
Biomedical sciences professor Jonathan Schertzer is senior author of a paper on postbiotics published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
To the extent that postbiotics are byproducts of bacteria in the gut, Schertzer says it’s just a matter of unleashing their beneficial effects.
“The bacteria in our guts are constantly dying and being turned over, and they’re producing a lot of this compound, this post-biotic," Schertzer said. "So now we want to see if it’s a viable approach to increase that in obese people, or allow it to get through the gut, because the gut is a significant barrier. It’s supposed to keep all of these things out.
"But there are good things that the gut is keeping out as well. ... We want to see if we can manipulate that and get some of the good things to get through," he added.
Reducing the risk
Reducing inflammation to lessen the risk of diabetes and other diseases is an active area of research.
Schertzer says that’s why there’s interest in postbiotics and some other anti-inflammatory compounds contained in the pain reliever aspirin.
There also is an existing drug to treat a cancer called osteosarcoma, he says, that seems to work on the same biological pathways as postbiotics.
McMaster researchers are interested in seeing if that drug also reduces blood glucose levels in obese animals.
Schertzer says investigators are poised to begin human clinical trials of postbiotics,as a way to head off diabetes in obese individuals headed in that direction.