According to the CDC, 29 million Americans have diabetes and 86 million more are living with pre-diabetes, a serious health condition that increases a person's risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Those numbers have fallen slightly since 2014, when Dr. Ann Allbright, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, called it an "alarming" trend.
The CDC says it's "working to reverse the U.S. diabetes epidemic by tracking disease trends, focusing on prevention, identifying effective treatments, and improving medical care."
Mayo Clinic's Dr. Heidi Nelson, director of the microbiome program within the Center for Individualized Medicine, says a nutrition and microbiome study currently underway at Mayo Clinic could prove beneficial in that fight.
The study, run by Mayo's Kelly Lyke, will track 500 local participants for a full week while measuring activity, sleep and food intake. The resulting data on gut microbiomes and glucose levels will create personalized nutrition recommendations based on how individuals metabolize food. Volunteers must be 18 years old with access to a mobile application. They'll must wear a glucose monitoring device and log their diet for seven straight days.
In layman's terms, the study could lay the groundwork for combating diabetes.
"We have a lot to learn and this is a really critical first step," Nelson said. "Think of it as a window into what's going on in your intestine. We don't know much about that except that different people have different responses to food. The same plate of food can give one person a high glycemic response and a normal response to everyone else.
"I don't want to make it sound like it's going to prevent problems, but we now have issues with pre-diabetes and diabetes. This is a step in the right direction in trying to understand what happens to each person each day."
Lyke is still seeking healthy participants to take part in the study, which is seeking to confirm the findings of an identical study performed by Israel-based DayTwo. High blood sugar is linked to energy dips, excessive hunger, weight gain and increased risk of obesity and diabetes, according to DayTwo.
If Mayo is able to replicate the results from DayTwo's 800-participant study, it could pave the way for a direct-to-consumer product — potentially costing hundreds of dollars — that enables the general public to monitor their glucose response levels.
Nelson says it could create the next generation of diets, allowing individuals to make food choices based on their individual responses. It could render all-for-one diets like Adkins and South Beach a thing of the past.
"Metabolically, your microbes are very important," Nelson said. "What we're starting to understand is all these years we've had so many different diets … that are really trying to help people lose weight. But we really haven't got to individualized diets. That's where the next step really is.
"We haven't built a direct link between controlling your glycemic response and diabetes, but we assume that's true," she said. "It's an epidemic."