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How SCFAs can help you to manage your diabetes

Do you struggle to control your blood sugar levels?

You’re taking your medication, but you’re not seeing the improvements you want?

You know diet is a key factor in managing your condition, but there’s so many foods out there, where should you start?

If this sounds familiar, rest assured, you are not alone.

As a diabetic, the consequences of not controlling your blood sugar can be serious1. Many people look to their doctors and medication to solve this problem, but there are things you can do yourself.

In some types of diabetes, namely type 2, the condition can be managed by increasing the amount of exercise2 you get and changing your diet3. However, a common challenge of changing your diet, is knowing what foods to eat.

What goes wrong in diabetes?

In healthy people, blood sugar levels are controlled by the hormones insulin and glucagon. Produced by cells in the pancreas, these hormones are responsible for the concentration of sugar in your blood4.

If your blood sugar is low, glucagon releases sugar into the bloodstream by breaking down stored glycogen in the liver, which it converts into sugar. Insulin, on the other hand, has the opposite effect, as it removes sugar from the bloodstream when your blood sugar is too high.

In diabetics, this system isn’t working properly. Depending on the type, there is either a lack of insulin being produced (Type 1), or your cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced (i.e. they become resistant to insulin)5 (Type 2). This causes your blood sugar to stay elevated and, in both cases, the result is that insulin cannot perform its job properly.

In type 2 diabetes, an unhealthy lifestyle is partly responsible for poor blood sugar control. A diet high in refined sugars5, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity6 are key factors associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

So how can you produce more insulin, and be less resistant to what you do produce?

Cells and hormones

In order to understand how to manage your diabetes, you must first get to know some of the main biological players in blood sugar control.

Specialised cells in your gut , known as L-cells, produce and release hormones which help to control things like insulin release, blood sugar and appetite.

Three of these hormones – GLP-1, GIP and PYY – are released when food is present in your gut.7,8 When sugar is present, GLP-1 and GIP bind to receptors on the pancreas to stimulate the release of insulin.7 The last hormone, PYY, acts to decrease your appetite by reducing gut motility.7

Lastly, we have another hormone called IGF, which you may have heard of if you’ve dug into the science of diabetes before! IGF is an important hormone because it works with insulin to rapidly remove glucose from the bloodstream, and allows glucose to be transported to cells around the body. High levels of IGF improve the efficacy of this process, thus improving insulin sensitivity.

Why does this matter? Enter, Short-Chain Fatty Acids

Armed with this information, it’s time to learn about short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and their role in diabetes management.

SCFAs are produced by bacteria in your gut when they break down fiber. Although you may not realize it, this fermentation process is relevant for both insulin production and sensitivity. Let’s find out why!

SCFA’s increase the number of L cells in the walls of the large intestine. As mentioned above, L-cells are responsible for producing and releasing hormones associated with blood sugar control.

So, more L-cells means more cells that can produce the GLP-1, GIP and PYY hormones – all of which are responsible for controlling blood sugar and appetite.

Not only do SCFAs help to boost the number of L-cells – but, also stimulate increased release of these same GLP-1, GIP and PYY hormones, as well as that last hormone, IGF, which improves insulin action and sensitivity. This combination of more cells and more beneficial hormones make SCFAs a double-edged-sword against diabetes10,11.

How to boost your SCFAs to manage diabetes

As mentioned above, SCFAs are produced when bacteria within your gut break down the fiber you consume.

So, you guessed it, the answer is quite simple! Consume more fiber.

To sum it up, additional fiber consumption increases the production of SCFAs, which activate the cells and hormones that help your body to produce more insulin, improve insulin sensitivity and regulate appetite. Ultimately, this will help you to regulate your blood sugar and improve your diabetes.

Cool, right!?

Now that you know the strategy – let’s get to the technicalities – how much fiber should you eat, and what types are best??

In general you should aim to eat at least 35g of fiber a day. Natural, unprocessed sources are best, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and, in particular, those that contain prebiotic fiber – fiber that acts as food for good bacteria to help them to grow and produce these SCFAs.

One of the best sources of prebiotic fiber is yacon root. The type of prebiotic fiber found in yacon root has shown to rapidly increase the formation of SCFAs in the gut while promoting bacterial balance to further increase the production of SCFAs12.Yacon can also be used as a natural substitute to sugar, to further assist with blood sugar regulation, making it a great option for those trying to control diabetes.

So – when thinking about your next meal, remember: having fiber in your diet is key for blood sugar control!

Now that you know the importance of fiber, why not make the change today and take control of your blood sugar! Not only will you feel better, but a high fiber diet will help you lose weight and look great too!

References:

1. Jumar A, Ott C, Kistner I, Friedrich S, Michelson G, Harazny JM, Schmieder RE. Early Signs of End‐Organ Damage in Retinal Arterioles in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Compared to Hypertensive Patients. Microcirculation. 2016 Aug;23(6):447-55.

2. Way KL, Hackett DA, Baker MK, Johnson NA. The effect of regular exercise on insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes & metabolism journal. 2016 Aug 1;40(4):253-71.

3. Sami W, Ansari T, Butt NS, Ab Hamid MR. Effect of diet on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A review. International journal of health sciences. 2017 Apr;11(2):65.

4. Vergari E, Knudsen JG, Ramracheya R, Salehi A, Zhang Q, Adam J, Asterholm IW, Benrick A, Briant LJ, Chibalina MV, Gribble FM. Insulin inhibits glucagon release by SGLT2-induced stimulation of somatostatin secretion. Nature communications. 2019 Jan 11;10(1):139.

5. MacDonald IA. A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes. European journal of nutrition. 2016 Nov 1;55(2):17-23.

6. Boles A, Kandimalla R, Reddy PH. Dynamics of diabetes and obesity: epidemiological perspective. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease. 2017 May 1;1863(5):1026-36.

7. Spreckley E, Murphy KG. The L-cell in nutritional sensing and the regulation of appetite. Frontiers in nutrition. 2015 Jul 20;2:23.

8. Baggio LL, Drucker DJ. Biology of incretins: GLP-1 and GIP. Gastroenterology. 2007 May 1;132(6):2131-57.

9. Abot A, Cani PD, Knauf C. Impact of intestinal peptides on the enteric nervous system: novel approaches to control glucose metabolism and food intake. Frontiers in endocrinology. 2018 Jun 22;9:328.

10. Psichas A, Sleeth ML, Murphy KG, Brooks L, Bewick GA, Hanyaloglu AC, Ghatei MA, Bloom SR, Frost G. The short chain fatty acid propionate stimulates GLP-1 and PYY secretion via free fatty acid receptor 2 in rodents. International journal of obesity. 2015 Mar;39(3):424.

11. De Vadder F, Kovatcheva-Datchary P, Goncalves D, Vinera J, Zitoun C, Duchampt A, Bäckhed F, Mithieux G. Microbiota-generated metabolites promote metabolic benefits via gut-brain neural circuits. Cell. 2014 Jan 16;156(1-2):84-96.

12. Delgado GT, Tamashiro WM, Junior MR, Pastore GM. Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius): a functional food. Plant foods for human nutrition. 2013 Sep 1;68(3):222-8.

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