Can Probiotics and Prebiotics Help Your Type 2 Diabetes?

Patient Expert
Medically Reviewed

If you have type 2 diabetes, you already know that eating certain types of carbohydrates affects your blood sugar. Now, researchers are finding that using probiotics to balance your beneficial bacteria – leading to better gut health – as well as high-fiber prebiotics to feed those bacteria are important factors in managing your type 2 diabetes. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria – found in foods and supplements – that help maintain a healthy balance in your gut. Prebiotics are fibers that feed and stimulate the growth of these beneficial bacteria. Let’s delve further into the relationship between prebiotics, probiotics, and type 2 diabetes.

How do probiotics and prebiotics work?

When you eat carbohydrates, beneficial bacteria in your gut go to work to break them down, producing certain fatty acids that protect your gut lining, lower inflammation, and curb your appetite. Certain types of prebiotic fibers can help “feed” and promote those beneficial bacteria.

When you have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, a shortage of beneficial bacteria, and/or a low level of prebiotic intake, you can experience “gut dysbiosis,” or a gut imbalance, which contributes to type 2 diabetes risk.

Two promising ways to restore balance and achieve gut health include adding back in more good bacteria with probiotic supplements and adding prebiotics via food and supplements. Prebiotic foods and supplements feed beneficial bacteria and allow them to thrive and become dominant over destructive bacteria. The result? Research now shows that you can achieve better blood sugar management, reduce inflammation, and achieve overall improvements in your health with type 2 diabetes.

Probiotics and type 2 diabetes

Specifically, a 2018 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition reported that probiotic supplements that contain various strains of good bacteria have many benefits for people with type 2 diabetes.

In the study, subjects took probiotic supplements and were evaluated after three and six months. The researchers assessed various factors, including fasting glucose, insulin levels, cholesterol, inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP), and endotoxin levels. Endotoxins are toxins that can negatively impact your immune system, make your intestinal lining less able to filter toxins, and destabilize your gut bacteria balance.

The researchers discovered that supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic for six months had numerous dramatic benefits for people with type 2 diabetes, including:

  • An almost 70 percent drop in endotoxin levels
  • A 38 percent reduction in glucose levels
  • A 38 percent reduction in insulin
  • A 48 percent drop in triglycerides, and 19 percent drop in total cholesterol levels
  • A 53 percent drop in CRP levels

The researchers concluded that a multi-strain probiotic supplementation significantly reduces inflammation and improves metabolic health and should be considered a promising complementary treatment for people with type 2 diabetes.

These results support the findings of a 2017 study showing that supplementing with probiotics resulted in significant lowering of hemoglobin A1C – a measurement of blood sugar levels over several months – as well as fasting insulin levels, improving the prognosis and management for people with type 2 diabetes.

Fiber and prebiotics for type 2 diabetes

A 2018 study out of Rutgers University found that a diet high in prebiotic-rich high-fiber foods and supplements has significant benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Increasing prebiotic intake helps promote specific types of beneficial bacteria to help rebalance your gut. These good bacteria then help to lower inflammation, improve management of blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, and promote more significant weight loss.

Your next steps

If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, what can you do with this new information?

1. Consider taking a probiotic supplement.

The Diabetes Council recommends that your probiotic supplement be a controlled or sustained-release formulation that includes different strains of bacteria, but should at least contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Other studies have shown that different probiotic strains, including Firmicutes, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Saccharomyces, Bacillus indicusBacillus subtilisBacillus coagulansBacillus licheniformis, and Bacillus clausii are helpful for people with type 2 diabetes.

Some experts believe that the because many bacteria are unable to survive transit to the gut via food or most probiotic supplements, a spore-based capsule form of probiotic is best. You can learn more about traditional and spore-based probiotic supplements in this helpful article here at HealthCentral.

2. Consider increasing your intake of prebiotics

You can increase your consumption of prebiotic-rich foods by eating more foods like rice bran, chicory root, dandelion leaves, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, barley, and konjac root. You can also get prebiotics from supplements. The Diabetes Council recommends that they contain inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).

3. Talk to your doctor

Research supports benefits of probiotics and prebiotics, but their use is not yet a standard recommendation. Talk to your health care provider before taking supplements. Some probiotics may be dangerous to people with a defective immune system.