• Wed, Sep 5 2012

Overweight? Intestinal Bacteria May Be Causing Your Health Problems

Overweight people may have a new enemy to fight. That’s right, it’s not just lack of exercise and excess calories that are causing diabetes and other illnesses; a new study says that health problems related to obesity are connected to bacteria in the gut. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical School found 26 strains of intestinal bacteria that are linked to obesity-related illnesses like insulin-resistance and high blood pressure.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed stool taken from Amish people living in Pennsylvania. Apparently, they’re a good population to do research on because they’re homogenous: almost all Amish people are descended from the same families and they have very little divergence in terms of diet and lifestyle. I’m sure the fact that they’ve had very little interaction with processed food helps, too.

The people in the study varied in terms of age, weight and size, but researchers were able to learn that the guts of people with obesity-related health problems had evidence of 26 types of rare bacteria. They also found that people who worked regularly with livestock shared gut bacteria with livestock.

Basically, this means that, if you’re obese, your weight may not be the sole cause of your high cholesterol and other health problems. Still, researchers seem to think that the interaction of microbes in the body is quite complicated, as Dr. Alan R. Shuldiner said:

 ”It may have something to do with genes, or various lifestyle factors and the environment. We just don’t know.”

Dr. Brandi Cantarel reiterated that scientists aren’t exactly sure how the bacteria interacts with the body to create these health problems, but emphasized that this link opens up the topic for more research.

“We can’t infer cause or effect, but now that we have results from step one and we can now look at what the bacteria are doing, it can give us more information to go about getting an intervention.”

Awareness of gut microbes has increased in recent years, with more and more of the general public taking probiotic supplements, eating tons of yogurt and trying to rebalance the “flora” of the gut. Antibiotics have been linked to eradication of “good” gut flora, and there’s some evidence that taking probiotics can help restore a more natural bacterial balance. This study, though, really seems to hit home the fact that the bacteria-laden worlds of our intestines are incredibly complicated (and still somewhat mysterious) environments that can provide lots of clues into our overall health.

Photo: Shutterstock

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