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Type 2 Diabetes and Bad Bacteria

Type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes could possibly benefit from exposure to bad bacteria. While this may sound strange, scientists have recently uncovered some benefits associated with bacteria typically viewed as detrimental to health, and those benefits could be important to diabetics.

Can bad bacteria be good too?

The bacteria under investigation are Helicobacter pylori, spiral-shaped organisms that are found in about half of people in the world. These bacteria are typically present in the stomach, which is why they are most often associated with severe diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers, gastritis, and gastric cancer.

In fact, H. pylori are linked to 80 percent of stomach ulcers and 90 percent of ulcers that develop in the duodenum (the upper end of the small intestine). However, even if you have these bad bacteria in your body, chances are good you won’t develop ulcers or stomach cancer, although gastritis (characterized by abdominal pain) is more likely to occur. Still, most people who harbor these bad bacteria do not become ill.

The good side of these bad bacteria is their ability to have a positive impact on chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and allergies, according to Josep Bassaganya-Riera, director of the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory and the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens at Virginia Tech.

Now in the new study, the investigators discovered “for the first time that gastric colonization with H. pylori exerts beneficial effects in mouse models of obesity and diabetes.” This is an important finding since obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes and the bacteria are common in the population.

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Specifically, the obese diabetic mice in the study who were infected with H. pylori displayed less insulin resistance than did mice not infected or mice that were exposed to a more powerful strain of H. pylori. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and a condition in which the body does not respond appropriately or adequately to insulin.

So why do these bad bacteria turn benefactor? Scientists speculate the bacteria take the bad road or the good road depending on the interaction between the genetic composition of the bacteria and the body’s immune response.

The scientists also reported that their discovery suggests that overuse of antibiotics by medical professionals as well as in the food chain in livestock feed may help kill good bacteria in the intestinal tract and contribute to development of diseases. On the flip side, research has shown that use of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) can help alleviate symptoms and treat conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, and ulcers caused by H. pylori.

For now, the benefits of this study are that common bacteria may be helpful in controlling one of the most prevalent diseases of modern times. Exactly how these bad bacteria will be used to manage type 2 diabetes has not been established, but computer models developed by the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens may researchers better understand the relationship between bad bacteria and type 2 diabetes.

Bassaganya-Riera J et al. Helicobacter pylori colonization ameliorates glucose homeostasis in mice through a PPAR y-dependent mechanism. PLoS One 2012; 7(11): e50069

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