Does Poor Gut Health Promote Type 1 Diabetes in Children?

Diabetes is a major problem in the United States. According to the 2018 annual National Diabetes Statistics Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects 9.4 percent of U.S. residents.

Many cases of diabetes are not diagnosed quickly, leading to further health complications. According to the CDC, 23.8 percent of diabetes sufferers are unaware they have it.

According to a study conducted by the CDC, approximately 17,500 children were newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 2002 and 2012 in the United States. Each year, as more cases are diagnosed, more research is conducted on the causes of type 1 diabetes. Over the last several years, research into digestive bacteria and microorganisms has recently shown such organisms can cause or exacerbate type 2 diabetes. As of writing, similar research is being performed on the relationship between type 1 diabetes and poor gut health. The following information may help you determine your child’s type 1 diabetes risk factors based on his or her gut health.

Type 1 Versus Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes comes in two primary forms, which are type 1 and 2. Both can easily be identified through a diabetes screening, however sometimes people discover they have diabetes through illness. Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC, accounts for approximately 95 percent of all diabetes cases. Both types of diabetes are characterized by an inability to process insulin properly. At later stages, the body of a patient with type 2 diabetes may also stop producing a sufficient amount of insulin. As a result, the type 2 diabetes patient may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision or dizziness
  • Frequent hunger or thirst
  • Need to urinate often
  • Slower healing of wounds
  • General feelings of fatigue
  • Tingling or numb sensation in extremities

With the exception of tingling or numbness, a type 1 diabetes patient may experience the same symptoms. The patient may also lose weight inexplicably and experience sudden mood swings. Despite the similar symptoms, the cause of type 1 diabetes is different. It is characterized by the body of the patient being unable to produce insulin at all. While type 2 diabetes often occurs in adulthood, type 1 is commonly called pediatric diabetes because it occurs frequently in childhood.

Gut Microbiota (Gut Microbiome) and Type 1 Diabetes

There are several types of bacteria found in the stomach and digestive tract. In fact, every human has approximately six pounds of healthy gut bacteria. They form an internal environment called a gut microbiome, or microbiota. Gut bacteria serve many purposes. Some include:

  • Strengthening the immune system.
  • Fighting unhealthy bacteria from external sources attempting to infiltrate the systems of the body.
  • Regulating hormone levels.
  • Assisting with the synthesis of certain vitamins, such as B vitamins and vitamin K.

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The gut microbiome of every child is different. Many bacteria are inherited and present from birth. These bacteria form the basis for the microbiome. However, more bacteria are acquired naturally as children age. Additional bacteria can also enter their body through other means, such as antibiotic treatments. Gut bacteria are classified in many different groups, such as:

  • Firmicutes, which assist in the processing of fat
  • Bacteroidetes assist with carbohydrate and protein processing
  • Christensenellaceae are most commonly present in patients who lead healthy lifestyles and are not obese

Scientists have not yet found a direct link between specific bacteria groups and type 1 diabetes in children. However, discoveries made have led to a strong belief in such a link and the formation of additional studies. For example, it is known some types of bacteria can release toxins in the body. Those toxins have the potential to negatively impact the metabolic system due to their impacts on fat cells and liver functions.

Changes in Gut Microbiota and Related Criteria in Children with Type 1 Diabetes

Several changes exist in the gut microbiota of children with type 1 diabetes, according to recent studies. For example, study results recently published in the Diabetes Care Journal indicate children with type 1 diabetes have less diverse gut bacteria than children without type 1 diabetes. Lipopolysaccharides and cytokines known for causing inflammation are also present in higher numbers in children with type 1 diabetes, according to the results of the study. Their presence in such high concentrations may be significant because inflammation is linked to autoimmune responses similar to allergic reactions. Such responses may cause the development of diabetes or worsen existing diabetes symptoms.

The same study found children with type 1 diabetes are more prone to the development of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when bacteria is able to pass through the lining of the gut. Bad bacteria are then able to invade other parts of the body. In some cases, bacteria that is harmless or even helpful in the gut can become harmful when allowed to move into other parts of the body.

Reducing Type 1 Diabetes Risks and Regulating Gut Health

There may be a link between the development of type 1 diabetes in children and diet as well. For example, in the United States, dairy products typically contain a protein called A1. In Europe, dairy products are more likely to contain the A2 protein. The A2 protein is less allergenic. Studies indicate consumption of American dairy products containing the A1 protein can cause or exacerbate autoimmune disorders and may increase type 1 diabetes risks. Similar results have occurred in children who consume too much gluten.

Multiple studies indicate a link between obesity and diabetes development in diabetics of all ages. One way to reduce diabetes risks in children is to regulate their diets. Daily exercise can also assist with weight control. Studies on animals and humans have also shown gut microbiota changes based on the types of foods consumed. High-fiber, low-fat diets have been linked to better bacteria diversity in the guts of study participants. Bacterial diversity often changes within a few days of dietary adaptation.

Additional research is necessary to confirm the exact impact of gut health on type 1 diabetes development in children. However, initial results indicate positive dietary changes are beneficial for regulating gut bacteria. There are also many other health benefits children can reap from maintaining a proper exercise routine and eating a healthy diet. If your children are at risk for type 1 diabetes, ensuring they practice such healthy habits is an excellent first step in the treatment or prevention process.

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