'Medicinal food' diet counters onset of type 1 diabetes

March 27, 2017, Monash University
Monash University researchers, Dr. Eliana Mariño and Professor Charles Mackay. Credit: Monash University

Monash University's Biomedicine Discovery Institute researchers have led an international study that found - for the first time - that a diet yielding high amounts of the short-chain fatty acids acetate and butyrate provided a beneficial effect on the immune system and protected against type 1 or juvenile diabetes.

Autoimmune type 1 occurs when immune cells called autoreactive T cells attack and destroy the cells that produce insulin - the hormone that regulates our .

The specialised diet developed by CSIRO and Monash University researchers uses starches - found in many foods including fruit and vegetables - that resist digestion and pass through to the colon or large bowel where they are broken down by microbiota (gut bacteria). This process of fermentation produces acetate and butyrate which, when combined, provided complete protection against type 1 diabetes.

"The Western diet affects our and the production of these short-chain fatty acids," researcher Dr Eliana Mariño said.

"Our research found that eating a diet which encourages the gut bacteria that produce high levels of acetate or butyrate improves the integrity of the gut lining, which reduces pro-inflammatory factors and promote immune tolerance," Dr Mariño said.

"We found this had an enormous impact on the development of type 1 diabetes," she said.

The findings, which attracted considerable interest at the International Congress of Immunology in Melbourne last year, were published today in the prestigious journal Nature Immunology.

Professor Charles Mackay, who initiated the research said the study highlighted how non-pharmaceutical approaches including special diets and could treat or prevent autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.

"The findings illustrate the dawn of a new era in treating human disease with medicinal foods," Professor Mackay said.

"The materials we used are something you can digest that is comprised of natural products - resistant starches are a normal part of our diet.

"The diets we used are highly efficient at releasing beneficial metabolites. I would describe them as an extreme superfood," he said.

Professor Mackay said that the diet was not just about eating vegetables or high-fibre foods but involved special food and a special process, and would need to be managed by nutritionists, dietitians and clinicians.

The researchers are hoping to gain funding to take the findings into type 1 diabetes into clinical research. Professor Mackay, Dr Mariño and collaborators around Australia are expanding their research to investigate 's effect on obesity and other inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, food allergies and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

This research was supported by JDRF, the Diabetes Australia Research Trust and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Explore further: Changes in the diet affect epigenetics via the microbiota

More information: Gut microbial metabolites limit the frequency of autoimmune T cells and protect against type 1 diabetes, Nature Immunology, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ni.3713

Related Stories

Changes in the diet affect epigenetics via the microbiota

November 23, 2016
You are what you eat, the old saying goes, but why is that so? Researchers have known for some time that diet affects the balance of microbes in our bodies, but how that translates into an effect on the host has not been ...

Consuming saturated animal fats increases the risk of type 2 diabetes

February 17, 2017
Recently, dietary guidelines for the general population have shifted toward a plant-based diet rich in legumes, whole-grain cereals, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and low in animal-based foods like red meat. Increasing evidence ...

Mice fed more fiber have less severe food allergies

June 21, 2016
The development of food allergies in mice can be linked to what their gut bacteria are being fed, reports a study published June 21 in Cell Reports. Rodents that received a diet with average calories, sugar, and fiber content ...

Diet lacking soluble fiber promotes weight gain, mouse study suggests

November 2, 2015
Eating too much high-fat, high-calorie food is considered the primary cause of obesity and obesity-related disease, including diabetes. While the excess calories consumed are a direct cause of the fat accumulation, scientists ...

Eating whole grains led to modest improvements in gut microbiota and immune response

February 8, 2017
In a clinical trial, adults who consumed a diet rich in whole grains rather than refined grains had modest improvements in healthy gut microbiota and certain immune responses. The research was conducted in tandem with a study ...

High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids

September 28, 2015
Eating a lot of fibre-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes—typical of a Mediterranean diet—is linked to a rise in health promoting short chain fatty acids, finds research published online in the journal ...

Recommended for you

Neuron guidance factor found to play a key role in immune cell function

May 21, 2018
Macrophages are white blood cells involved in a variety of biological functions, from destroying infectious pathogens to repairing damaged tissue. To carry out their different roles, macrophages must first be activated and ...

First clues to the causes of multiple sclerosis

May 16, 2018
Multiple sclerosis, which affects one in 1,000 people, is frequently characterised by relapses associated with variable functional impairments including among others vision problems, impairment of locomotor functions or difficulties ...

A high-fiber diet protects mice against the flu virus

May 15, 2018
Dietary fiber increases survival in influenza-infected mice by setting the immune system at a healthy level of responsiveness, according to a preclinical study published May 15th in the journal Immunity. A high-fiber diet ...

Study finds that different diseases elicit distinct sets of exhausted T cells

May 15, 2018
The battle between the human immune system and long-term, persisting infections and other chronic diseases such as cancer results in a prolonged stalemate. Over time battle-weary T cells become exhausted, giving germs or ...

Study shows yogurt may dampen chronic inflammation linked to multiple diseases

May 14, 2018
Inflammation can be good. It's part of the body's innate immune system, our first line of defense against illness and injury.

Beyond killing tuberculosis: How can we tolerate an infection without eliminating a pathogen?

May 11, 2018
Historically, our view of host defense against infection was that we must eliminate pathogens to eradicate disease. However, this perspective has recently been challenged as scientists have taken a lesson from plant biologists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.