University of Florida researchers have found that the variety of bacteria in a child’s digestive tract is strongly linked to whether that child develops type 1 diabetes. The connection could eventually give doctors an early test for the condition and a new way to treat the disease that afflicts more than 3 million Americans.
The cause of type 1 diabetes has long been a baffling medical mystery. There seems to be little or no genetic element — only 15 percent of those who develop the form of diabetes have an immediate family member with the condition, meaning there is likely a trigger somewhere in the patient’s environment.
According to the University of Florida research, that trigger may be linked to bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. At birth, our digestive tracts are relatively sterile. Even as we take our first breaths, however, we begin to ingest the microbes around us.
Most of us build and maintain a healthy variety of microbes in our gut. They are essential to health, helping to break down food while offering an extra layer of protection for our delicate digestive system.
The new research has shown that type 1 diabetic children lose this balance of bacteria. While healthy children all had very similar microbial mixes, the diabetic children all had erratic combinations with less overall variety.