Researchers have found that toxins in staph bacteria may be causing diabetes.
While many people may not realize it, staph infection is a very real concern in the realm of wound healing. Staphylococcus bacteria often lives on the skin without causing any real harm to the body. However, when there is a puncture to the outer dermal layer, whether it’s broken skin from dryness or a full incision, the bacteria can enter the opening, causing a staph infection. If left untreated, it can lead to sepsis, which causes the blood pressure to drop drastically and can be fatal.
Now, research has revealed a new concern regarding staph infection – one that affects not only wound healing, but also one’s quality of life. A study published in the journal for the American Society for Microbiology found that staph infection may be one of the causes of Type 2 diabetes.
Staph and diabetes: exploring the relationship
This study, conducted by microbiologists from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, sought to explore the notion that bacterial exposure can affect a person’s chances of developing some chronic conditions. The researchers exposed rabbits to the same toxin, or superantigen, that is produced by Staphylococcus aureus. What they found was that, in high amounts, this toxin led to the development of symptoms associated with diabetes, including resistance to insulin and intolerance for glucose as well as inflammation.
“We basically reproduced Type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen,” said lead researcher Dr. Patrick Schlievert in a news release.
To check these finding, the researchers then turned to human patients who already have diabetes. The scientists measured the amount of the staph bacteria and related toxins on the skin of four diabetics, and they found that the amount of staph superantigens on the skin was proportionate to amount that caused the diabetic symptoms in the rabbits. This secondary testing confirmed the researchers’ speculation: People with diabetes have high levels of staph living on their skin, and that bacteria might be a culprit behind the metabolic disorder. It’s a discovery that has the potential to change the way clinicians approach treatment for prediabetes and diabetes.
“What we are finding is that as people gain weight, they are increasingly likely to be colonized by staph bacteria – to have large numbers of these bacteria living on the surface of their skin,” Schlievert said. “People who are colonized by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing.”
A road to new preventative measures
These findings could lead to new clinical approaches for preventing diabetes, which could in turn prevent some of the millions of amputations that occur each year due to the dangerous mix of venostasis and diabetic foot ulcers. With new information in hand, the researchers aim to find new ways to reduce diabetes risk through staph reduction. The scientists are planning to develop a vaccine against the superantigens, which the scientists believe will in turn help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Another potential outcome is the development of a topical gel that contains glycerol monolaurate, a surfactant that kills the staph bacteria. It would be applied directly to the skin and kill the bacteria upon direct contact.
Further testing will determine if these solutions work to defend against staph and improve blood-glucose levels in people with prediabetes. But someday, patients may be directed toward staph-fighting topical gels to protect healing wounds from the devastating bacteria, and prediabetics may be using vaccines to prevent further development of this widespread metabolic condition.