Paleo Diet: New Study That Suggests Diabetes May Begin in The Intestine

Most people in the Paleo and low-carb communities are pretty sure that they already know what causes obesity and diabetes. It’s all about those dastardly carbs, right? We all know that eating too many carbohydrates……any carbohydrates, over a long period of time, is what leads to Insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes. But is that true? Is it really as simple as all that, or is there more to the story? Who are we kidding, there’s always more to the story.

If carbohydrates are the single insidious cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, why are there still primitive, hunter-gatherer cultures around the world that thrive on high carbohydrate diets, like the Kitavans?

An article on dated February 15th 2012, outlined a new study that suggests diabetes may begin in the intestine.

“Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have made a surprising discovery about the origin of diabetes. Their research suggests that problems controlling blood sugar — the hallmark of diabetes — may begin in the intestines.”

“In the new research, scientists studied mice that are unable to make fatty acid synthase (FAS) in the intestine. FAS, an enzyme crucial for the production of lipids, is regulated by insulin, and people with diabetes have defects in FAS. Mice without the enzyme in the intestines develop chronic inflammation in the gut, a powerful predictor of diabetes.”

“Diabetes may indeed start in your gut,” says principal investigator Clay F. Semenkovich, MD. “When people become resistant to insulin, as happens when they gain weight, FAS doesn’t work properly, which causes inflammation that, in turn, can lead to diabetes.”

“First author Xiaochao Wei, PhD, and Semenkovich, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine, professor of cell biology and physiology and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Lipid Research, collaborated with specialists in gastroenterology and genome sciences to determine what happens in mice that can’t make FAS in their intestines.”

“The first striking thing we saw was that the mice began losing weight,” says Wei, a research instructor in medicine. “They had diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, and when we looked closely at the tissue in the gut, we found a lot of inflammation.”

“Initially, the researchers thought that the mice became sick because of changes to the mix of microbes that naturally live in the gut, where they help digest food and synthesize vitamins.”

This idea of sickness due to intestinal flora disbiosis is definitely nothing new for the ancestral health community. We know that the small intestine is at the center of a healthy immune system, but in this case the researchers found that intestinal flora was not directly to blame for the little sick fluffy animals.

“The mice had substantial changes in their gut microbiome,” Semenkovich says. “But it wasn’t the composition of microbes in the gut that caused the problems.”

“Instead, Wei says, the mice got sick because of a defect in fatty acid synthase. The mice without fatty acid synthase had lost the protective lining of mucus in the intestines that separates the microbes from direct exposure to cells. This allowed bacteria to penetrate otherwise healthy cells in the gut, making the mice sick.”

“Fatty acid synthase is required to keep that mucosal layer intact,” Wei says. “Without it, bad bacteria invade cells in the colon and the small intestine, creating inflammation, and that, in turn, contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.”

“Further study showed that the ability to build the thin, but important, layer of mucosal cells was hindered by faulty FAS.”

“That the gut is so important to the development of diabetes makes sense because many people with the condition not only have faulty FAS, but they also frequently develop gastrointestinal difficulties, Semenkovich says.”

As per usual, no-one mentions what could actually be at the root of the problem. Like those television commercials that say “High Uric Acid is the root cause of gout”, this article leaves us wondering “well, what causes the reduction of Fatty Acid Synthase?”

I think that there are many factors at play here, but two of the largest contributors could potentially be polyunsaturated fats, and our old friend gluten. We have spoken many times on this site about how gluten negatively affects the intestinal wall and mucosal barrier, but we haven’t mentioned polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) very often, when maybe we should. It turns out that PUFAs are known to suppress Fatty Acid Synthase, and they are currently the most widely used type of fat in the country today.

PUFAs are found in all vegetable, seed, and most nut oils, which means that they are in millions of boxed food products, and fast food joints across the country. They are also the main component of fish oil. I know fish oil and cod liver oil is sacred to most of the paleo community, but there is a strong possibility that fish oil is actually not good for us at all. Anytime the government visibly gets on-board with some kind of nutritional supplement, you can be quite sure that it’s not as healthy as they would have us believe. Have you noticed how there is so much talk about essential fatty acids, and Omega-3s recently? I have.

Again, PUFAs suppress Fatty Acid Synthase, which according to this new study that suggests diabetes begins in the intestine, is a possible cause of diabetes. Here are a few studies that support the PUFA/FAS connection:

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Another piece of the puzzle, as suggested by Dr. Ray Peat, is that according to the Randle Cycle, polyunsaturated fats inhibit the use of glucose in our cells, which creates systemic insulin resistance, also leading to diabetes. It seems that Chris Masterjohn is also in agreement about the inherent dangers of fish oil and PUFAs, in his article here.

It seems to me that regardless of the level of carbohydrate intake, and the sources of carbohydrate, eating a whole food based Paleo diet, and avoiding PUFAs and Gluten could be a solid strategy for remaining diabetes free.


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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2 Responses to Paleo Diet: New Study That Suggests Diabetes May Begin in The Intestine

  1. HeatherT February 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I think part of the issue might be our good friend iron too. Iron sulfate is added to a lot of our carb foods. And to mouse food. It’s even added to baby milk. It does a few things in terms of diabetes, which would apply to the gut issues too:

    1. Iron is a required nutrient for many of the less-desirable bacteria. Once you add iron to the food, you change which bacteria grow. Mother’s milk is very low in iron, and the iron is sequestered so it doesn’t mess with the baby’s bacterial mix.

    2. Iron is an irritant. Combined with another irritant, like gluten, it’s apt to promote an immune response, just like the irritant that added to vaccines to promote an immune response to the dead flu virus or whatever.

    3. Iron is stored in those mucosal cells, until prompted by the liver (hepcidin) to release it into the blood. So adding iron to food is setting up those cells to be higher in iron than usual, which will change how they work.

    4. High iron in the blood is already known to cause Type 2 diabetes. This happens routinely in people who get too many transfusions. Further, donating blood is known to help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

    5. I’m pretty sure gluten gets into all this too: gluten changes how the gut cells work also. And by stimulating zonulin production, it might cause the iron to leak into the bloodstream more than it should too. But it’s hard to tease out the effect of gluten vs. iron, because in the US and some other countries, pretty much all gluten foods contain added iron.

    6. High-fiber foods tend to prevent diabetes. High-fiber foods also tend to block iron. Actually most of the foods that are “good for insulin levels” happen to be either naturally low in iron or are iron blockers.

    • Lila Solnick February 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

      You could very well be correct Heather. I imagine the whole picture is larger and more complex than we can see now.
      Thank you for adding to this discussion. Your participation is greatly appreciated!