How Gut Bacteria Play a Role in Blood Sugar Balance

How Gut Bacteria Play a Role in Blood Sugar Balance

  • Gut Health

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    Been thinking about blood sugars these days?

    It may seem like an odd question – but for the average Canadian, high blood sugar levels are not uncommon. According to Diabetes Canada, eleven million of us have diabetes or prediabetes. That’s roughly 1 out of 3 Canadians who struggle with blood sugar imbalance. The foods we eat and how we move our body plays a major role in maintaining blood sugar balance, but there is another key player you may not expect: gut bacteria.


    Understanding Diabetes

    The vast majority of diabetes burden worldwide is due to type two diabetes2, so that is what we will discuss here.

    The course of type two diabetes is distinct from auto-immune related type one diabetes. Many factors contribute to disease progression; however, lifestyle is a substantial contributor. Type two diabetes is driven by a sustained increase in insulin levels that eventually leads to insulin resistance in the tissues of the body.

    When you eat, your body detects the nutrients in your bloodstream and signal the pancreas to release insulin. You can think of insulin as a key that fits into a lock on your cells called an insulin receptor. It opens the cell's door and welcomes the nutrients in. The high fat, high sugar diets common in North America are associated with the development of obesity and type two diabetes as they trigger a flood of insulin in the body. But did you know they also have a negative effect on gut bacteria increasing the growth of harmful species and increasing the permeability of the gut barrier1,2?


    Your Gut, Your Blood Sugars

    How can something so tiny, living in your gut, affect the way the cells in your body respond to insulin? Your immune system is the key. We have known for some time that gut bacteria can trigger inflammation, activating pathways that increase insulin resistance in the body1. One reason this may occur is gut barrier dysfunction, leading to the absorption of bacterial fragments known as endotoxins that continuously trigger an immune response1.

    Your gut plays a critical barrier function, helping keep the trillions of bacteria that live within it in check – your immune system is at the ready should anything pass through that gut barrier that isn’t supposed to. A high-fat diet increases gut barrier dysfunction, making the gut ‘leakier’. When this happens, bacterial contents wind up making their way past the gut gates. In fact, research suggests that those with diabetes may have more live bacteria circulating in their blood than those without diabetes2.

    If endotoxic fragments on the outside of gram-negative bacteria known as lipopolysaccharides (LPS) reach your circulation, proteins called toll-like receptors (TLRs) can trigger an inflammatory response that can change how well your insulin receptors respond to insulin, leading to the state we call insulin resistance1,2.

    Another surprising gut bacteria-diabetes connection here is via your bile acids, which are released by the gallbladder and liver to aid in digestion2. Bile acids vary depending on your diet, and the type and amount of bile acids shape the community of gut bacteria2. However, that relationship is a two-way street: gut bacteria also transform the bile acids in the gut and affect their production in the body2. Why is this of interest concerning diabetes? Because bile acid metabolism seems to affect glucose metabolism – whether this is due more to their effects on glucose balance in the liver or their effects on the gut microbiota is still unclear2.


    Probiotics and Diabetes

    It has been observed that those with type two diabetes exhibit dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the community of gut bacteria1. One of the biggest questions here is whether all of these changes we observe play a causal role in developing diabetes or if they are merely a symptom of the disease. Research on the use of probiotics in diabetes holds some interesting clues. Initial research suggests that probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus strains, may help improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity1-3.

    How are probiotics doing the job? Researchers aren’t sure but probiotics can decrease oxidative damage, reduce inflammation, improve gut barrier function and restore microbial balance1. Probiotics – and prebiotics that enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria – have also been shown to influence levels of gut hormones that can impact glycemic control2.

    If you are working to maintain better blood sugar balance, dietary change is the first step. Eat more whole plant foods like vegetables and raw nuts, in addition to proteins at every meal. Reduce your intake of refined flours, baked goods and excess sugars. Exercise is critical to help keep your cells hungry for energy. You may also wish to try a probiotic like Bio-K+ to help support a healthy intestinal balance.

    Bio-K+ drinkable probiotic is unique in that it delivers live and active bacteria. The natural cane sugar included in Bio-K+ supports the growth of the three Lactobacillus strains; without sugar, the bacteria could not survive. When blood sugars are a concern, take note of the sugar content on the label and consider drinkable Bio-K+ as you would with any other food component in your diet. The amount of sugars in most varieties are similar to a piece of fruit.

    The Original dairy formula contains no added sugars, as the lactose naturally present is adequate to sustain the bacteria and it is an excellent choice for those who need to minimize added sugar intake to balance the rest of their dietary choices.

    Capsules are another great option for low sugar living. Whatever your needs, there is a Bio-K+ that is right for you!


    Maintaining healthy blood sugar balance is critical to optimal health. Balanced blood sugars help keep your energy levels on an even keel, and over time, will minimize your risk of insulin resistance and type two diabetes. And now, you know that taking care of your gut bacteria is a key part of a total body health strategy. Enjoy your Bio-K+ daily and eat plenty of high fibre plant foods to feed your bacteria well!


    Do you have more questions about diabetes or gut health? Let us know in comments below! For more information on Bio-K+, probiotics and digestive health, join our communitycontact us or find us on Facebook and Instagram. Click here to find the closest point of sale. 





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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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