The use of antibiotics may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 tended to take more antibiotics in the years leading up to the diagnosis than people who did not have the condition, according to a new study.

The findings echo those of another study that found a connection between the overuse of antibiotics and the risk of developing diabetes.

The more prescriptions for antibiotics a person filled, the more likely he or she was to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

In type 2 diabetes blood sugar levels rise because a person cannot produce enough of the hormone insulin to clear sugar from the bloodstream. Nearly 95 percent of all diabetics have type 2 diabetes.

“…[W]e found people who have type 2 diabetes used significantly more antibiotics up to 15 years prior to diagnosis compared to healthy controls,” one of the study's authors, Kristian Hallundbæk Mikkelsen, said in a statement.

The link between antibiotic use and overuse and the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is clear, but it isn't certain the antibiotics actually cause the disease. It may be that the infections that prompt antibiotic use are a warning sign they are developing diabetes.

“…[T]he findings raise the possibility that antibiotics could raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Another equally compelling explanation may be that people develop type 2 diabetes over the course of years and face a greater risk of infection during that time,” Mikkelsen suggested.

The Danish researchers tracked antibiotic prescriptions for 170,504 people who had type 2 diabetes and for 1.3 million people who did not have diabetes, using the records from three national health registries in Denmark.

Type 2 diabetes sufferers filled 0.8 prescriptions a year, on average. The rate was only 0.5 prescriptions a year among the study's control subjects. The more prescriptions for antibiotics a person filled, the more likely he or she was to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers tracked the use of many types of antibiotics and found all were associated with an increased risk of the disease, but there was a stronger link with the use of narrow spectrum antibiotics such as penicillin.

Antibiotic treatments can alter the bacteria in an individual's gut, and studies suggest certain gut bacteria may contribute to the impaired ability to metabolize sugar seen in people with diabetes. But more research is needed.

A person's patterns in antibiotic use could serve as a way to prevent the development of the disease or to diagnose it early. “Further investigation into long-term effect of antibiotic use on sugar metabolism and gut bacteria composition could reveal valuable answers about how to address this public health crisis,” Mikkelsen added.

The study is published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.