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Type 1 diabetes involves the inability of beta cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections and carefully monitor their food intake to properly regulate blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed during childhood in children who are genetically predisposed to the disease. In a recent study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers followed 33 infants who were genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes. Out of these 33 children, a handful went on to develop the disease.

From birth to age three the researchers collected data on the composition of the gut microbiome of these children. They found a 25 percent decrease in community diversity, or the number of species, one year prior to diagnosis, suggesting that a decrease in gut microbial diversity may trigger the onset of the disease.

“This study is unique because we have taken a cohort of children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes and then followed what changes in the microbiome tip the balance toward progression to the disease,” said Ramnik Xavier, MD, PhD. Another author called the study “a compelling piece of evidence pointing toward a direct role of the microbiome in type 1 diabetes.”

The researchers noted a decrease in bacterial species known to help regulate gut health and an increase in potentially harmful bacteria known to promote inflammation. This gut imbalance, or dysbiosis, is common among many health conditions, and research shows that it may be the trigger that leads to many chronic diseases.

More studies are needed to determine whether type 1 diabetes can be prevented or treated by making modifications to the gut microbiota. The positive results of this study will certainly spur more research in this area. I will keep you posted as I learn more.