Is Type 1 diabetes a symptom of a virus in the gut?

For over a million Americans, type 1 diabetes is a fact of life. Type 1 diabetes, which is also sometimes called “insulin-dependent diabetes,” can strike anyone, at any age — seemingly, without warning. In the United States, 40,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed every year. But new research shows that the occurrence of type 1 diabetes may not be as random as it seems. Scientists from Columbia University say that certain viruses that linger in the gut could predispose children to develop type 1 diabetes.

This shocking new research adds to a growing body of evidence that viral exposure can influence diabetes risk — and specifically, that intestinal microbial populations are incredibly influential in the onset of disease.

Linking intestinal viruses to Type 1 diabetes

A scientist from the Center for Infection and Immunity of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health teamed up with the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia to take a closer look at the relationship between intestinal enteroviruses and type 1 diabetes (T1D) risk.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the findings show that elevated levels of intestinal enteroviruses are linked to islet autoimmunity — a precursor to T1D. To conduct their research, the team looked at samples of blood and stool collected from 93 children who took part in the Australian Viruses In the Genetically at Risk study. This was a “prospective birth cohort of children with at least one first-degree relative with Type 1 diabetes.”


As a press release from Science Daily notes, the team used a special viral sequencing tool developed at the Center for Infection and Immunity, known as the Virome-Capture-Sequencing for Vertebrate-infecting viruses (VirCapSeq-VERT). VirCapSeq-VERT is said to be up to 10,000 times more powerful for virus identification than conventional “next-generation” sequencing methods.

The fecal samples revealed that 129 viruses were more common in the guts of children with islet autoimmunity than the guts of age- and gender-matched controls. These viruses included enterovirus A species, which are a common source of infection in babies. What this means is that kids with islet autoimmunity have more “bad” bacteria in their intestines.

Study leader Thomas Briese, Ph.D. and professor at the Center, said of the findings, “These findings strengthen the model that enteroviruses can spread from the gut into a child’s pancreas and trigger autoimmunity in the cells that regulate blood sugar.”

“Knowing the virus types involved is a critical step toward developing new strategies for prevention and treatment of Type 1 diabetes,” he added.

Gut health and diabetes

Past research has also shown that children with less-diverse intestinal bacteria are more likely to produce self-destructive antibodies that lead to T1D. In 2017, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that what kind of bacteria reside in the gut plays a pivotal role in a child’s diabetes risk.

The senior author of the study, Herbert “Skip” Virgin IV, M.D., Ph.D., the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and head of Pathology and Immunology, said of the findings: “We identified one virus that was significantly associated with reduced risk, and another group of viruses that was associated with increased risk of developing antibodies against the children’s own cells.”

“It looks like the balance of these two groups of viruses may control the risk of developing the antibodies that can lead to Type 1 diabetes,” he added.

In addition to finding that children who carried a virus from the Circoviridae family were less likely to develop T1D, the team also found that children with less diverse gut bacteria populations were more likely to generate self-destructive antibodies that cause T1D. As a press release explains, these antibodies attack the pancreatic islet cells needed to produce insulin — impairing the body’s ability to secrete insulin and regulate blood sugar.

It is no small wonder that many natural health enthusiasts are now turning to probiotics to help prevent gestational diabetes.

Learn more about keeping your gut healthy naturally at

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