It’s going to take piles of veges, nuts and wholegrain pasta, but an Australian scientist believes fibre is the answer to the worldwide diabetes pandemic.
The positive affect fibre has on gut bacteria is critical to good health, says Professor Charles Mackay.
Ideally people should go back to the diet of cavemen, but the dietary wisdom of our grandparents should be enough to get the world on track.
That’s a big ask. One in 10 Australians is diabetic and more than 380 million people in the world have the disease, according to International Diabetes Federation figures released to mark World Diabetes Day on Thursday.
While other health experts despair, Prof Mackay is optimistic.
“We’re at the beginning of something. It is as exciting to me as the discovery of electricity,” he says.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to reduce diabetes dramatically.”
Prof Mackay has just been appointed to the Australian Diabetes Council chair at the University of Sydney’s new Charles Perkins Centre.
This will enable him to explore his passion: how diet and gut bacteria affect cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma.
Although he once viewed thinking about the benefits of gut bacteria as “quack medicine”, he now says: “It is now clear these bacteria produce substances which profoundly affect our wellbeing. It is a new frontier in medical research.
“The environment is critically important. You pick up or modify gut bacteria your whole life, through diet or through antibiotics or other factors.”
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes, but fibre is likely to play a preventative role in both, Prof Mackay says.
Like asthma, type 1 diabetes is an inflammatory disease and parents should be thinking about fibre from before a child is born.
“What a mother eats during pregnancy might be incredibly important for setting up an individual for life,” he says. “It could reduce their propensity to get type 2 diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease.
“To me it is clear we could knock the incidence of type 2 diabetes to almost zero if we were to go back to a diet extremely high in fibre and very low in fat and sugar.
“Whereas I was somewhat pessimistic two or three years ago, I think over the next five or 10 years we are going to see diabetes and obesity falling rather than rising as we understand how to change eating habits.
“We have to think about how to make people eat a healthy diet.”