Private Business Intermediaries

Fat Bug: Bacterial infection may cause obesity

24/12/2012 | By Sharmila Chauhan
New research suggests obesity, may be related not just to the types of food you eat, or how much exercise you take, but may in fact due to a bacterial infection.

The human intestine is home to more than 500 different species of bacteria. This normal ‘microbiota’ or 'friendly bacteria' play an essential and role digestion, absorption and storage of nutrients, such as plant materials, that would otherwise be indigestible. It seems now that some of these bacteria may play another more sinister role.

The study, which was carried out in China was based on an observation that a morbidly obese woman was found to have high amounts of a type of bacteria in her digestive tract. The bacteria, known as enterobacter, is thought to be involved with the body’s metabolic processes, including promoting the production of fat and modulating the levels of metabolism-controlling genes. It also releases endotoxins, which are a type of chemical that can cause insulin resistance, reduce the absorption of sugar from food and increase the time it takes for a person to feel full and so stop eating.

In the study, mice who were fed enterobacter became obese, whilst those who were not fed the bacteria, did not. This suggests that being infected with this type of bacteria, could in fact make people obese. There are lots of implications for this – including developing drugs to kill off, or at least, limit the bacteria.

The Shanghai team tested their theory successfully in a morbidly obese man, who was fed a special diet. The diet, which included whole grains, traditional Chinese medicines and non-digestible carbohydrates  - changed the pH in the gut to inhibit the enterobacteria. The man who was not allowed to exercise during the ‘treatment’, lost almost a third of his body weight in about 6 months. He also recovered from diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.

Obesity is a major health problem in the West; it is linked with increased risk of a number of serious conditions including: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. This poses a significant financial and health burden – and its not getting any better: Recent reports suggest that 50 per cent of all adults in the US and UK will be obese by 2030. Finding ways to control the obesity will help to improve the health and quality of life of huge numbers of our populations
If some types of obesity are caused by a bacterial infection – then it is possible that it is an ‘infectious’ disease that can be spread between people. The fact that is appears to be controllable, and that there may be a ‘cure’ for a condition previously thought to be due to behavioural and genetic factors - is truly remarkable.