What Prebiotics and Probiotics Have to Do With Diabetes

by Ann Bartlett Patient Expert

Researchers have been studying the benefits of the microbes
in our digestive tract for decades. I think most of us have heard about the benefits of taking a probiotic, and let's not forget all the yogurt ads that tout the benefits that their product carries.

But probiotics and prebiotics have now come to light as something that may play into the development of type 1 diabetes.

The probiotic evidence is that the flora (gut microbiota) of the intestinal tract helps to regulate the body's immune system, but little has been done to qualify the use of prebiotics and probiotics as helpful to someone with an autoimmune disease, until recently.

In January, a study
out of the Netherlands was released that showed a direct relationship between gut microbiota and diabetes.
Researchers saw that kids with type 1 diabetes had abnormal gut flora, versus kids without diabetes.

The primary difference, between kids with diabetes and kids without, was in their microbiota composition. Kids with beta cell autoimmunity, meaning type 1 diabetes, had low levels of particular microbes. Two specific microbiota were lacking in children with type 1: lactic acid-producing and butyric acid-producing bacteria. This seems to be a potential marker for kids with diabetes.

While the study was very small, just 18 children, it caught everyone's attention due to the clarity of the results, and it circled back to a 2006 study from New York Academy of Sciences where they looked at food that specifically helped those with type 1 diabetes. Foods containing rich sources of prebiotics and probiotics showed significant benefits in children with diabetes.

To clarify, prebiotics are special forms of dietary fiber, and probiotics are living bacteria that are intended to help keep the colon healthy. In a nutshell, prebiotics nourish the probiotic bacteria that are needed to keep your digestive tract healthy.

Prebiotics are often more abundant in fermented foods, but that's not the only place to find them. Here is a list of foods that contain higher quantities of prebiotics:




Jerusalem artichokes




Some foods have prebiotics added, these include:

Yogurt (becareful of the sugar content)

Cottage cheese

Fresh pasta

Prebiotics are helpful not only to probiotics, but our overall health by helping the body absorb minerals, lower blood cholesterol, and some even help inhibit certain pathogenes, like listeria. A healthy amount of prebiotics ranges from 5 to 15 grams per day.

Is there a prebiotic/probiotic in one pill, you ask?
Yes, there is
It's called a synbiotic. Synbiotics are a supplement that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. It's a good idea to look into taking a synbiotic, since probiotics and prebiotics work in tandem.

If you are thinking about taking a pre- and pro-biotic, or adding a probiotic to your child's diet, talk with your doctor.
Many doctors are on board with probiotics, but they may not know a whole lot about which ones are the trusted source. You want to look for those that are the best in live cultures, haven't been sitting in the store too long, and, typically, probiotics need a cool dark place to live. I usually store mine in the refrigerator.
And, like insulin, they have a shelf life of about 30 days.

While prebiotics and probiotics won't cure diabetes, it probably will help with many other aspects of living healthier and it will definitely help give you a happy tummy.

Ann Bartlett
Meet Our Writer
Ann Bartlett

Ann wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Diabetes.