A dietary supplement promoting fermentation in the gut could play a key role in protecting against type 1 diabetes, Australian researchers say.
Their findings show a special diet developed by CSIRO and Monash University scientists using hi-fibre starches help protect mice from type 1.
The starches - found in many foods including fruit and vegetables - resist digestion and pass through to the colon or large bowel where they are broken down by gut bacteria.
This process of fermentation produces acetate and butyrate which, when combined, provided complete protection against type 1 diabetes when given to mice who already had the disease, the researchers say.
"The Western diet affects our gut microbiota and the production of these short-chain fatty acids," Monash University researcher Dr Eliana Mariño says in a press release .
"Our research found that eating a diet which encourages the gut bacteria that produce high levels of acetate or butyrate improves the integrity of the gut lining, which reduces pro-inflammatory factors and promote immune tolerance.
"We found this had an enormous impact on the development of type 1 diabetes."
However, just boosting your fibre and vegetable intake probably won’t be enough to produce the effect, says Monash University Professor Charles Mackay, who initiated the research which was published in the journal Nature Immunology.
Instead he says the diet would involve special food that would need to be managed by nutritionists and other clinicians.
He says the study highlights how non-pharmaceutical approaches including diets and gut bacteria could treat or prevent autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
"The findings illustrate the dawn of a new era in treating human disease with medicinal foods," Professor Mackay says.
In the study, the researchers say their supplement could eventually be used to help people with diabetes.
“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,” the researchers say in the study.