What could sweet taste receptors in the gut have to do with type 2 diabetes?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Our intestines can detect sugar too. What might that have to do with diabetes?

Past research has suggested type 2 diabetes could begin in the gut. For the first time researchers describe abnormal control of so-called "sweet taste receptors" in the human intestine that could be responsible for health and nutrition problems faced by people with diabetes.

Findings published February, 2012 by researchers at University of Washington found type 2 diabetes was associated with inability to synthesize fatty lipids in the gut from an enzyme deficiency. In the current study, scientists from University of Adelaide suggest 'sweet' taste receptors in the intestines play a more important role in type 2 diabetes than previously known.

Dr Richard Young, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher in the University of Adelaide's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory said in a press release "When sweet taste receptors in the intestine detect glucose, they trigger a response that may regulate the way glucose is absorbed by the intestine. Our studies show that in diabetes patients, the glucose is absorbed more rapidly and in greater quantities than in healthy adults." What that means is diabetes isn't just a disorder of the pancreas and insulin, Young explained.

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The study

The finding comes from a comparison of healthy adults to patients with type 2 diabetes. Young found gut taste receptors in people without diabetes help regulate blood sugar surges. But for those with diabetes, abnormalities in the gut’s ‘taste buds’ interferes with glucose uptake.

Young says “We're now just beginning to understand the importance of the sweet taste receptors in the human intestine and what this means for sufferers of type 2 diabetes. " Based on the study finding, there may be more to diabetes type 2 that goes beyond beta cell dysfunction in the pancreas and insulin resistance that has to do with faulty sweet taste receptors.

Young says now researchers know what happens with people thirty minutes after glucose is delivered to the intestine. The next step is to see what happens during the entire digestive process. The scientists also plan to investigate out receptors in the gut respond to artificial sweeteners compared to glucose. The hope is to better understand how mechanisms in the gut work so diabetes treatments can be improved.

Updated 12/6/2014