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Saturday, April 20, 2024

UC Davis researchers become the first to link insulin sensitivity in Black and white women to differences in the gut microbiome

This study was the first to focus on the racial and sex differences in the gut microbiome, highlighting the possible effects of various environmental and socioeconomic factors on gut health

By MONICA MANMADKAR — science@theaggie.org

A study led by UC Davis researchers showed significant differences in insulin sensitivity between Black and white women. This study is the first to conduct research on insulin sensitivity in premenopausal women. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels and allows cells to use sugars as energy. The hormone also signals the liver to store extra sugar for later use. Accordingly, insulin sensitivity describes how cells may become resistant to insulin over time, which can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes. 

The study showed that insulin sensitivity is more widespread in Black women than white women. Hence, type 2 diabetes is disproportionately more common in Black women than white women. 

The study examined a dataset detailing the difference in the gut microbiomes of Black and white women. The gut microbiome refers to the set of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract. 

“By looking at the data set, [the researchers] were able to look into the differences between Black and white women’s profiles and how racial differences continue in insulin sensitivity,” Dr. Candice Price, an assistant adjunct professor and cardiometabolic researcher at the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author on the study, said. 

The study was able to find differences in the microbial communities in the different sexes and racial populations. Thirty percent of white women had insulin resistance compared to almost half of the Black women in the study.  

Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes are the most present bacterial types in the gut which make up about 90% of the total bacteria in all of the samples. However, the study did not find any notable differences in the ratio of these types of bacteria between the races. The study did find that Black women have a greater abundance of Actinobacteria, which is related to elevated inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity. 

“[Actinobacteria] being more abundant in Black women was one of the key findings of our study, and we may believe that insulin resistance may be more dominant in Black women due to this greater proportion of Actinobacteria,” Price said. 

Price also described how differences in the gut microbiome may have a possible effect on cardiovascular metabolism in Black women, hence showing the effects of the environment and social circumstances. 

Price detailed how this study was the first to look at race and sex differences in the gut microbiome, specifically focusing on insulin sensitivity. She hopes that delving into racial and sex differences can help shed light on health disparities in the development of diseases in the population. 

“There has been an enormous amount of research conducted about the gut microbiome, but the focus of the research is usually not very diverse in terms of race, sex and socioeconomic factors,” Johnathan Eisen, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology and the Department of  Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and a co-author on this study, said

Eisen said how this study highlights how some groups tend to be more studied than others and how that focus ignores the possible needs of understudied populations. Possible explanations for the differences in health need to be studied through extensive conditions, including a study of the diet, historical health conditions and other controls. 

Dr. Price will be discussing this study as a part of Black History Month at UC Davis Health on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. For information on how to join, search UC Davis Health’s Black History Month events.

Written by: Monica Manmadkar — science@theaggie.org



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