Scientists Believe That Diabetes May Actually Start in the Intestines
For a long time, scientists and researchers have studied the liver, where sugar is stored, and the pancreas, where insulin is made, to try to discover what exactly causes diabetes. Now, a study has reason to believe that these organs are not where the disease starts, but rather it starts in the intestines.
Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis had their studies published in Cell Host and Microbe. The research consisted of the problems of fatty acid synthase (FAS) in the intestines of mice. FAS is an enzyme needed to produce lipids and regulate insulin. The mice without the enzyme in their intestines had chronic problems, and this is an indicator of diabetes. People with diabetes have “defects in FAS.”
The study focused around mice that cannot make FAS in their intestines. Initially the mice became sick; after closer observation, it was clear that the mice were becoming sick because of a defect in FAS. This caused the mice to “lose the protective lining of mucus in the intestines that separates microbes from direct exposure to cells.” Consequently, bacteria was able to penetrate the cells and cause the mice to become sick.
Professor Xiaochao Wei, PhD, first author on the study, said, “Fatty acid synthase is required to keep that mucosal layer intact. Without it, bad bacteria invade cells in the colon and small intestine, creating inflammation, and that in turn, contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.”
During the study, trying to rebuild the layer of mucus was hindered because of the “faulty FAS.”
Principal investigator of the study Clay F. Semenkovich stated, “Abdominal pain and diarrhea are some of the most common problems we see with people with diabetes. We could only connect these ‘dots’ because other experts at the university could help us link what we observed in these mice to what occurs in patients with diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.”
Semenkovich and Wei both say there is much more studying that has to be done. For now they believe that FAS and Muc2, a “key component of the intestinal mucus,” may be the focus of diabetes therapy. They plan to move on to human studies to see if FAS is altered in the same way as the mice and is causing gastrointestinal problems.