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Loughborough study demonstrates link between gut bacteria, probiotics and insulin sensitivity

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Research by Loughborough University academics has shown that a probiotic drink could be a solution in controlling insulin resistance, a major characteristic of diet-induced diseases such as type II diabetes.

The study, led by Dr Carl Hulston - lecturer in sports nutrition based in the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, suggests that the composition of the gut microbiota is an important factor in understanding metabolic disease in humans.

For the study, seventeen healthy individuals were split into two groups. Both maintained their habitual food intake for the first three weeks of the study. One of the groups also consumed two bottles of a probiotic fermented milk drink every day.

During the fourth week, both groups were given a high-fat and high-energy diet. The probiotic intake was continued for the same group during this week.

The main finding of the study was that high-fat overfeeding for seven days decreased insulin sensitivity by approximately 27% within these healthy volunteers. But the group that consumed the probiotic drink preserved their glycaemic control and maintained insulin action.

The results provide further indirect evidence that changes in the gut microbiota are involved in the development of human metabolic disease and, furthermore, that supplementation with a probiotic could help prevent insulin resistance caused by excessive consumption of high-fat foods.

Speaking about the findings, Dr Carl Hulston said:

“We are already aware that excessive consumption of high-fat foods, even for a short period, can lead to the development of metabolic diseases such as type II diabetes.

“Therefore the demonstration by this study that a probiotic has the potential to prevent insulin resistance in humans is a significant breakthrough. This warrants further investigation on a larger scale to support our initial findings.”

The study was supported by industry partners including Yakult UK Limited. The company’s product Yakult Light, containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota was the probiotic used in the study.

Dr Linda Thomas, Science Director at Yakult UK Limited, said:

“These are very interesting findings, demonstrating yet another aspect of the health benefits associated with our strain. We look forward to continuing this research.”

The full report of the study, Probiotic supplement prevents high-fat, overfeeding-induced, insulin resistance in humans, by CJ Hulston et al, can be found on the British Journal of Nutrition website.

Dr Carl Hulston can be contacted directly about this study at: C.J.Hulston@lboro.ac.uk.