The principles of food as medicine are accepted in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and modern medicine. Our understanding of the role of food on lifestyle has been growing over the past decades. The gut and brain are interconnected. The gut is now widely accepted as the second human brain or gut-brain. Together they impact the whole body. In this background, food’s role in type 1 and type 2 diabetes is now better understood. The understanding has implications for diabetes management.
The connection between the gut and diabetes begins at the fetal stage. Colonization of the infant gut microbiome results in dynamic changes in diversity and can help retard the progression of Type 1 diabetes. (Kostic, A.D. et al., 2015). Studies have shown that good bacteria in a healthy gut play a vital role in auto-immune disease development. (Brown, C.T. et al., 2011). The onset of type 1 diabetes can also be delayed and manipulated through probiotic treatment. (Peng, J., et al., 2014)
Metformin is a medicine used frequently in diabetes treatment. The drug is affected by the microbiota present in the gut. (Wu, H., et al., 2017; Forslund, K. et al., 2015) Microbial genomes in the gut exceed the size of the human genome. The size of the gut genome is around 500-fold more than the size of the human genes. This gut genome is essential for helping digest indigestible dietary fibers and other nutrients.
This microbial ecosystem in the gut gets modified through diet, probiotics, drugs, and surgical interventions. This ecosystem will then directly impact the body’s ability to control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes patients. This understanding is throwing up the potential of developing personalized medical regimes for type 2 diabetes patients. (Brunkwall, L. et al., 2017)
The gut microflora evolves and changes from infancy onwards. Some of the influencing factors identified include the type of infant feeding, hospitalization, and early maturity. Dietary nutrients, periodicity, and frequency of use of antibiotics are other factors influencing the microbiome. (Musso, G. et al., 2010).
Assessment and explaining the nature of gut microbiota has become a significant research area to study endocrine-related ailments like diabetes. Gut microbial markers will help classify type 2 diabetes patients who, in the future, will be able to receive personalized treatment and dietary recommendations. (Qin J. et al., 2012) The glucose tolerance level and its links with the microbiota will help develop strategies to control metabolic diseases by modifying the gut microbiota. (Larsen, N. et al., 2010) It follows diet is a critical element in diabetes management and control.
Let me briefly summarize some of the current thinking on the role of food in building immunity and preventing numerous diseases.
- Fermented and fiber-rich foods help gut microbiota prevent the entire range of gastroenterological diseases, from constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, and even cancers of the stomach.
- Plant-based foods that contain mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and are free from harmful saturated fatty acids have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. They keep bad cholesterol levels down and prevent plaque formation in the arteries. Plaque buildup is one of the major factors of angina, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that help protect the body from infections.
- A plant-based, low-fat, low-sugar diet prevents the onset of lifestyle diseases from type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and obesity.
No wonder Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, described food as medicine. If you wish to learn more about nutrition and plants’ role in healing various diseases, you want to check the selection of books here.