Eating yogurt helps prevent diabetes. Now, scientists finally know why

Although it has been known for some time that eating yogurt decreases the risk for developing diabetes, the reason for the protective effect was unknown. Recently, however, researchers at Université Laval and Danone Nutricia Research say that this protection could be attributed, at least in part, to the gut microbiota. Specifically, metabolites produced by the lactic acid bacteria in yogurt reduce the risk for diabetes.

“These metabolites, called branched chain hydroxy acids (BCHA), result from the action of yogurt lactic acid bacteria on naturally occurring amino acids in milk,” says co-lead author André Marette, a professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine and a researcher at the Québec Heart and Lung Institute, in a statement.

The scientists observed the effects of yogurt on two groups of mice which they fed a diet high in sugars and fats for 12 weeks. One of the groups was given the equivalent of two daily servings of yogurt. After the 12 weeks, it was found that the mice which had been fed yogurt had better control of blood sugar and less insulin resistance than the mice which were not fed yogurt. 

Analysis of all the metabolites and changes present in the livers of both groups showed that the yogurt-fed group also had better liver function than the control group.

“In the group that was not given yogurt, the numbers of these metabolites in the bloodstream and in the liver decreased with weight gain. In the yogurt group, the numbers of BCHA were partially maintained,” explains Professor Marette, “We also found that greater preservation of BCHA in the liver was tied to improved fasting glucose and hepatic triglycerides.” 

“BCHA are found in fermented dairy products and are particularly abundant in yogurt. Our body produces BCHA naturally, but weight gain seems to (adversely) affect the process,” adds co-lead author Dr. Hana Koutnikova. 

A next step in the research could be to determine if the decrease in metabolites associated with weight gain can be limited by consuming yogurt specifically developed for the process.  It also must be determined if the yogurt helps restore normal metabolic function in obese people. 

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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