Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Study focuses on preventing diabetes and healthy weight

New research shows probiotics can help prevent diabetes and maintain healthy weight. Photo / File
New research shows probiotics can help prevent diabetes and maintain healthy weight. Photo / File

Researchers are appealing for people at risk of prediabetes to help them better understand whether probiotics and intermittent fasting can make a difference.

Probiotics are becoming increasingly important to health researchers, as these beneficial bugs may change the environment in the gut to improve how our body breaks down food.

New research shows they can also help prevent diabetes and maintain healthy weight.

The PROFAST study, run out of the University of Auckland, tests a combination of two strategies: participants with restrict their calorie intake for two days every week (600kcal per day for women or 650kcal per day for men) while taking probiotic capsules, which may reduce high blood sugar and the chance of developing diabetes.

One of the researchers leading the study, Associate Professor Rinki Murphy, was interested to see whether higher-concentration doses of probiotics altered not just diabetes levels in patients, but also the fat distribution within their bodies.

"We think that the probiotics might be acting in a way to change where the fat is stored."

To tease this out, the study would establish an MRI baseline, looking particularly at pancreas and liver fat, and then repeat the MRI test later in the study.

Participants being sought for the study needed to be NZ European, Pacific, Maori or Indian; obese, with a BMI of between 30 and 40; aged between 18 and 65; and have prediabetes with a HbA1c level of 41 to 49.

It comes after a new study by Auckland University and Otago University researchers, also funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, which showed that taking a daily probiotic supplement reduced the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).

The probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001), produced by Fonterra, which is used to make fermented milk products such as yoghurt, was given in capsule form to 194 women from early pregnancy, while 200 women received a placebo.

Gestational diabetes was assessed at 24 to 30 weeks gestation.

Using the current New Zealand definition for gestational diabetes, 6.5 per cent of the women had diabetes in the placebo group, versus 2.1 per cent in the probiotic group - a 68 per cent reduction.

Murphy said gestational diabetes now affected five per cent of pregnancies in New Zealand with the highest rates in the Auckland region at eight per cent, particularly affecting Pacific, Indian and Maori women.

"Women with gestational diabetes have increased rates of pregnancy complications and a 50 per cent lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes."

"There is increasing evidence that gut microbiota may be important in the development of diabetes by influencing energy extraction from the diet, hunger, inflammation and glucose metabolism, probiotics may be able to change how the gut microbiota are behaving to improve diabetes risk.

"We are very excited by these results and we are now studying whether this probiotic also works to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes."

People interested in taking part in the study can email profast@auckland.ac.nz.

- NZ Herald

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