A study done in Australia has highlighted the prospect of using medicinal foods in treating type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease, occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the beta cells of the pancreas, which results in little or no insulin production. It is a T cell–mediated disease associated with impaired frequency and function of Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells. The causes of T1D are unknown, although several risk factors such as genes, hygiene, antibiotic use and diet have been identified.
Recent studies have identified the important role of gut microbiota in the development of T1D. The composition of the gut microbiota is different before and after diabetes onset, but how it affects the development of the disease is not yet known. Researchers have mapped the molecular mechanisms whereby the gut microbiota influences immune responses and this is thought to play a role in autoimmune diseases.
The short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) acetate and butyrate, which are produced in very large amounts in the colon through bacterial fermentation of dietary fibre, are known to elevate the number and function of induced Treg cells in the colon.
A study led by Dr. Charles Mackay at the Monash University used non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse, which develops spontaneous diabetes with considerable similarities to human T1D, to understand the importance of the SCFA microbial metabolites acetate and butyrate in autoimmune diabetes. Mice were fed with diets that yield large amounts of acetate or butyrate. They found that these diets boosted the concentrations of acetate and butyrate in the feces and in hepatic and peripheral blood, respectively. Compared with controls, mice on both diets showed significantly reduced insulitis and diabetes development, as well as an increase in gut integrity, with marked synergy in diabetes protection when a combined diet was used.
The results from this study, which were published in Nature Immunology, suggest that regardless of the underlying cause of T1D in humans, the application of a large amount of acetate and/or butyrate could be an effective intervention.