14 August 2006

Obesity VIRUS

This article on obesity in the NY Times is one of the most jaw-dropping things I have ever read. (Registration is required to read it. Just do it. It IS the newspaper of record, after all.)

The gist of the piece is that viruses that inhabit our intestines can make us process food differently and extract calories more efficiently, so eating the same amount of calories can make some people gain more weight than others.
...germ-free mice, reared in sterile isolators in Gordon's lab, had 60 percent less fat than ordinary mice. Although they ate voraciously, usually about 30 percent more food than the others, they stayed lean. Without gut microbes, they were unable to extract calories from some of the types of food they ate, which passed through their bodies without being either used or converted to fat.

When Gordon's postdoctoral researcher Fredrik Backhed transplanted gut microbes from normal mice into the germ-free mice, the germ-free mice started metabolizing their food better, extracting calories efficiently and laying down fat to store for later use. Within two weeks, they were just as fat as ordinary mice.
Wow. If this is true, it changes everything about how we think of obesity. How many times have you heard "It's all about diet and exercise"? Maybe not.
"The biochemistry of the body of the obese person is very different from that of a lean person," said [Dr.] Richard Atkinson... "If the obese person gets down to a lean person’s weight, their biochemistry is not the same." Losing weight is hard, keeping it off is harder and, especially for some unfortunate souls, the body seems to work against itself in the struggle.
I know I'm not one of the people with the virus. My fat self is purely due to eating too much and exercising too little - I actually lose weight rapidly when I put my mind to it (never).

This doesn't mean the weight problem will be solved, as viruses are notoriously hard to kill once they are in you. I just hope it will spark some compassion for the obese who struggle so hard and find themselves getting heavier and heavier.


Bamboo Lemur Boys Are Mean To Their Girls said...

There is a probiotic called Nature's Biotics. www.lifescienceproducts.com
check it out.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Perhaps, for the morbidly obese, there is some reason beyond diet and exercise, but Americans are still the heaviest group of citizens ever and it really DOES come down to how much (and what) they eat as well as how often they move their bodies. As glad as I am when science figures out the stuff like this, I fear it will be used to shrug off efforts to change the lifestyles of so many overweight people. "Ah...it's in my intestines. I can't do anything about it". And of course, that will be true in a way. Where else will a dozen doughnuts go?

SUEB0B said...

Wordgirl, that's kind of exactly the opposite of my point. For those with this virus, they may have to be on a starvation diet to lose any weight at all - not eating a dozen donuts.

meno said...

I read that article yesterday when i finally got around to the Sunday NY times. It really is quite a bit to think about.
I keep reading about more and more possible causes for obesity. I hope the researchers come up with some useful treatment soon. I especially hope that they find something to help obese kids as that is so sad.
I'm not particularly judgemental towards obese people, but this will help me become even less so.

that girl said...

i read that! it's awesome! although, i did feel like i needed a shower...

super des said...

Sometimes when people are too skinny they also have a virus. Or a worm. You just can't win with these things.

Anonymous said...

I think this is bullshit. Probably the study was financed by a pharmaceutical company that is going to now come up with a vaccine for obesity that everyone in America will buy in their desperation to not take responsibility for themselves.

Table4Five said...

I can't believe the insensitivity of these comments. I can't speak for every obese person, but I can assure Wordgirl and everyone else that I do NOT eat a dozen doughnuts at a time.
I know damn well that I need to eat a healthier diet and exercise more.

But if cervical cancer can be caused by a virus, why not obesity? Would you tell someone with cervical cancer that they need to stop looking for a medical treatment and just "take responsibility for themselves"?

SUEB0B said...

What Elizabeth said.

spotted elephant said...

Elizabeth-I can believe the comments. If there's a reason to explain obesity, it will make it much harder for people to feel superior to fat people. Also, many people don't understand the basics of metabolism and dieting.

Thanks for posting this, Suebob!

Anonymous said...

I live in Wisconsin in a town of about 100,000. I walk everyday and often times, it seems like I'm locked in the Twilight Zone, where I'm the only one in a town. Sure, there are lots of other people, but they're boxed: either in rolling boxes (cars) or big, stationary boxes (houses).

I once lived in Boston, where pert near everyone walks everyday. I know this is all anecdotal, but folks were thinner in Boston than Wisconsin. I think that most of us are hardwired to be fat. We store fat for famine. The desire to store fat is in our genes. And food was once so hard to obtain. It took a lot of moving: walking, running, looking, digging, etc. So, my point is that the modern life, with the super-abundance of food and little boxes that move us to big boxes, when coupled with Stone Age appetites, does correlate with big butts.

One more thing: when my friends return from abroad, every single one says, "American portions are huge."

So, it's complex, but I don't doubt that a virus is an aspect of the equation.

Suzanne said...

Indeed it is complex. I also think that genetics plays some role in it. Plus, it is true that most Americans don't eat decent-sized portions nor do they exercise enough. When all of these factors come together, it is a very potent cocktail.

The irony is that many overweight people are actually healthier than people who are too skinny. How you look is not always a good indication of your health! I wish people would remember that as well.

Anonymous said...

This thread sure fizzled. So much material to discuss, but it peetered. Why?

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