Blood Glucose Levels and the Microbiome

If you are one of the twenty nine million Americans affected by diabetes, the odds are good that you know first hand just how difficult predicting food’s effect on blood glucose levels can be.

Of course, the most important factor is the number of carbohydrates that a given food contains.  Carb-rich dishes are sure to have a proportionally larger effect on blood glucose than low-carb alternatives.  Additionally, you’ve probably learned to consider the complexity of carbohydrates: simple sugars found in white bread, soda, desserts, etc. tend to cause an immediate blood glucose spike; whereas complex sugars found in whole wheat, brown rice, oats, etc. tend to break down more slowly. 

However, you’ve probably noticed that these are only guidelines--sometimes food has unexpected effects. New research now points to the composition of the microbiome as a cause of this unpredictability.

How Tiny Microbes have a Huge Effect on Blood Sugar

            In a recent study published by Cell , researches conducted one of the most comprehensive studies on blood glucose levels and microbiome to date.  By continuously monitoring the blood glucose levels of 800 participants over the course of an entire week, scientists were able to record the reactions of each participant to various meals.  The results were extremely divergent.

In what is perhaps the most telling anecdote from the study, two participants experienced the exact opposite reaction to eating a cookie and eating a banana.  For one participant, the banana caused a spike in blood glucose levels and the cookie had virtually no effect; for the other participant, the banana had no effect and the cookie caused a spike.  How can it be that two people can have such starkly different reactions to the exact same food?  The role of each individual’s microbiome in the digestive process is a likely culprit. 

The Importance of Further Research on the Microbiome

Eran Segal, PhD, one of the authors of the aforementioned study, later speculated in an interview with Scientific American that, through careful study of the microbiome, scientists will be able to develop specialized diets catered to the needs of each individual.  “If it’s done in the proper fashion,” he remarked, “it has the potential to really improve people’s health.”

Here at CosmosID, this study was a perfect reminder of why we do what we do.  By aiding in the research and identification of microbes, we play an important role in the development of a constantly improving understanding of how the human body works.