Over 350 million people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every year, with an estimated 9.3% of the population of the United States suffering from the disease(1). With so many people affected, understanding how this disease develops is more crucial now than ever before.
We already know that there is a strong genetic component to the development of type 2 diabetes(2), and that obesity is a major risk factor as well(3), but now scientists believe they have found another piece to the puzzle of who gets type two diabetes and when – bacteria.
The Bacteria Connection
A study done at the University of Iowa in the United States has shown that exposing rabbits to the common bacteria staphyloccocus aureus for an extended period of time can produce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. These symptoms include insulin resistance, systemic inflammation and glucose intolerance(4).
How does this relate to diabetes in humans? Previous research has established that the more obese an individual becomes, the more staphylococcus aureus bacteria is found on them(5). This could be a partial explanation for why obesity is so intimately connected to the onset of type two diabetes.
The study, published in the journal mBio, notes that:
“Obesity has a strong correlation with type 2 diabetes, in which fatty tissue, containing adipocytes, contributes to the development of the illness through altered metabolism and chronic inflammation. The human microbiome changes in persons with obesity and type 2 diabetes, including increases in staphylococcus aureus colonization and overt infections.”
Weight Gain Affects Your Microbiome
Our microbiome – the living microorganisms that thrive on and inside our bodies in the trillions – has a huge impact on how we function on a day to day basis. As recent studies shed light on how our microbiomes actually work, we’ve come to understand that they can affect everything from our energy levels to our mental health.
Now, there’s evidence that weight gain can seriously alter our microbiomes, favoring bacteria that promotes the development of obesity(6). In addition, the higher a person’s body mass index (or BMI for short), the higher the rate of staph bacteria colonization on their skin.
Staph Bacteria: Not So Harmless
Staph bacteria can produce certain toxins – known as “superantigens” – which can seriously disrupt the immune system. These superantigens can even, in rare cases, cause a potentially fatal illness known as toxic shock syndrome(7).
The research team at the University of Iowa – led by Patrick Shlievert – wanted to take research on these superantigens further, to see if they could prove whether or not these staph toxins can promote diabetes.
What they found was that the toxins are able to interact with fat cells, as well as the bodies immune system, in order to produce systemic inflammation.
Systemic inflammation can cause cells to become insulin resistant – an early symptom of type two diabetes.
Shlievert is hopeful that this research could pave the way for new prevention methods when it comes to type two diabetes.
“I think we have a way to intercede here and alter the course of diabetes,” he said in a recent press release. “We are working on a vaccine against the superantigens, and we believe that this type of vaccine could prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.”(8)
There are also topical treatments which can kill staph bacteria on contact – something the research team is investigating as well.