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Diabetes, Weight, and Bugs

There’s definitely a connection between being overweight and having diabetes. The only problem is that nobody knows what it is.

More than 85 percent of us with diabetes – myself included – weigh more that a normal body mass index of 25. I hadn’t believed that the proportion of us who are overweight was so high until I read the latest government study.

That doesn’t mean that being overweight causes diabetes. That theory, which many people believe, can’t possibly be true. The easiest way for me to appreciate that being overweight can’t be the cause of diabetes is simply this:

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Seven percent have diabetes.

If being overweight caused diabetes, there would be a lot more of us with diabetes that there already are.

On the other hand, maybe diabetes makes us overweight. That’s certainly possible, but even if it is there has to be something else that causes us to carry more weight than we should.

That something else could be the bacteria in our gut. We need the good bacteria because they help us break down and digest the food we eat and fight off the bad bacteria.

Studies of obese people and obese mice that Washington University researchers reported in the December 20 issue of the prestigious journal Nature showed that both had more than one major type of bacteria and less of another type. Then, a dozen human volunteers dieted and lost a quarter of their body weight.

The result was that the proportion of the bad bacteria in their gut dropped and the good bacteria rose. However, those levels never reached those of the group who were slim at the start of the trial.

In the mice study they took lean mice with no germs in their guts and injected lots of bad bacteria. These mice got twice as fat as the mice with normal bacteria ratios.

It was as it they got far more calories from the same bowl of Cheerios than the other group, said Jeffrey Gordon, director of Washington University’s center for genome sciences, who led the study.

Like everything else concerning weight, the gut bacteria study is preliminary. But it at least gives us another talking point that our weight isn’t the cause of our diabetes.

This is not to deny that we can control our diabetes better when we lose weight. I know from my experience of losing a lot of weight last year how much better my numbers are and how much better I feel.

We don’t know what causes diabetes. We do know that it is often unfairly characterized as a lifestyle disease, because so many of us are overweight. We are victims of diabetes, and it is never fair to blame the victim.

Maybe the fault of being overweight isn’t in the stars. But it may well be in our bugs.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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