> Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

A human’s digestive tract is equipped with up to 1,000 different species of bacteria, according to Diabetes Journals. Perhaps you’ve been hearing all about this — digestive health has become a trendy topic as of late.

What’s the sudden popularity with yogurt, acidophilus, probiotics and the like?

It’s not that society is simply becoming more comfortable talking about what we all (ahem) share at times — unspeakable gastrointestinal upset; lucky for you, I’m a nurse, so anything is conversational.

What you may be unaware of is that “70 percent of the cells that make up the body's immune system are found in the wall of the gut, what we eat also may affect the body's immune response,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. This army of bacteria may be more important than you think — and it certainly can’t be taken for granted.

This fine working machine can be disrupted on a regular basis by: the foods we eat (yes, processed), antibiotics (especially during the first 15 months of life), medications (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), the environment and disease.

Look no further for another reason to avoid processed foods; manufacturers certainly aren’t thinking of your health when they incorporate chemicals and artificial sweeteners into their products. High fructose corn syrup, for instance, is poorly absorbed and can result in abdominal pain and bloating.

Gut Disease and Diabetes

It’s no secret that gut disease also plagues those living with diabetes. Bowel issues may not be dinner table conversation, but 1.4 million Americans have inflammatory bowel issues according to The New York Times — and many also share a diabetes diagnosis (type 1 or type 2).

The connection between gut microbiota and disease has been recognized by researchers and is in fact tied to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. Gastroparesis is a common bowel ailment in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as other autoimmune bowel diseases such as celiac disease, crohns, and ulcerative colitis.

Most interestingly, a study in 7th Space found gut microbiota to be altered upon diagnosis in children with type 1 diabetes.

Back to Birth

Out of gates our systems can be remarkably different — brought into the world via a vaginal versus cesarean birth and if we were bottle or breast-fed for example. We can’t reverse the reels, but we can take protective steps to improve our gut health.

To no surprise, researchers are finding genetics at the heart of inflammatory bowel disease. According to The New York Times: “experts now know that certain genes affect the types of bacteria living in the gut; in turn, these bacteria influence the risk of getting an inflammatory bowel disease.”

But genes don’t tell the whole story; many people carry genetic predispositions for diseases that never present themselves. The environment, mainly the diet, has researcher’s attention. Dr. Sartor in the New York Times states: “Bacteria eat what we eat, and every bacterium has certain food preferences.” Certain bacteria are gut protective and others – not so much.

Should I Be Taking a Probiotic?

Probiotics are used during and after antibiotic use, decreasing their blow to the gut and repopulating the good bacteria. Antibiotics aren’t selective, they wipe out everything — the good and the bad bacteria.

According to Diabetes Journals: “a five-day course of oral antibiotics modifies human gut microbiota for up to 4 weeks before it tends to revert to its original composition, and some communities fail to recover within 6 months.”

Many people choose to take probiotics on a daily basis and there’s a growing camp of health care providers suggesting them.

When You Know Where All the Bathrooms Are

When should I tell my doctor about my gut?

It’s never too soon; because our digestive system isn’t available to the naked eye, gut issues present in a very subjective territory. If you have a hunkering suspicion that something just isn’t right, it’s time to seek help from someone who can trouble shoot your issues.

Knowing where all of the bathrooms are may be your “normal”, but there’s nothing normal about needing to know that.

To learn more about living with diabetes:

Gut Microbes Can Predict Type 2 Diabetes
Eat Yogurt to Cut Diabetes Risk
Genetics Prove Protective Against Type 2 Diabetes