Category Archives: Fat is Contagious: Microbes and Obesity

Fat is Contagious: Microbes and Obesity

A fat-inducing virus may be making obesity as widespread as the common cold.
1.Can a Bug Cause Obesity?
4.Social Contagions

How Microbes Make Us Fat

Obesity is now classified as a disease in the United States.

Who will benefit from this semantic change remains to be seen: more diagnosis, more coverage for nutrition counseling and thinner bodies, hopefully. A likelier scenario, albeit a cynical one, may be this: more bariatric surgery and more diet drugs entering the pipeline with full coverage by insurance companies and government.

Probiotics are deeply involved in this disease and should demand attention too.

What we know: Lean and obese people harbor different types of microbes. The microflora of obese people  include fewer Bacteroidetes and more Firmicutes than lean people. When they lose weight, microbes change too.
review article from in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings explores the role of gut microflora in obesity.


How do gut microbiota contribute to obesity?
At least three ways: more energy taken from food, more fat cells are made, and the triggering of inflammation.

One recent study reinforced this line of thinking. Inflammation was reduced in rats fed a strain of Lactobacillus gasseri for 24 weeks. The strain significantly prevented body weight gain, fat accumulation and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the adipose tissue.

Changing gut microflora may be a new approach to treating obesity. But don’t hold your breath on reimbursement or subsidies for your yogurt.

That would be too sensible.

Microbes Target the Sweet Spot

As obesity and diabetes numbers soar across the globe, public health departments are looking for answers beyond the “fast food, slow lifestyle” cause.
Microbes may be part of the problem. In chronic diseases, a dysbiosis—imbalance of the gut microbial ecosystem—often exists. Whereas the disease itself may lead to a microbial mess, it is also believed that the opposite may be true: dysbiosis may be a cause of diabetes and obesity.
Finnish researchers Mikael Knip and Heli Siljander at Helsinki University Hospital looked at the evidence. Their work appears as Effects of Probiotics on Glycemic Control and Inflammation in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-controlled Study.

Type 1 diabetes:

Prediabetic children have decreased microbial diversity as well as reduced community stability when matched with children not showing antibodies or biomarkers of the disease.
Antibody-positive children showed:
• More Bacteroidetes
• Fewer butyrate-producing bacteria


• Alterations in gut microbes
• Efficient in harvesting energy
• More Firmicutes
• Decreased Bacteroidetes
• Reduced butyrate-producing bacteria

Type 2 Diabetes:
• Decreased diversity
• Reduced butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut
• Change in inflammatory activity
• Change in insulin resistance

The question: what to do with this information to benefit health.
Diet itself can have a profound impact. High fiber foods or indigestible carbohydrates called prebiotics may reset the microbiome.

Use of probiotics can alter the system and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. This is ironic because in Finland where supplementation with probiotics is high, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes is the world’s highest.
Reseeding the entire gut with fecal transplants works well with infestation by toxins such as Clostridium difficile and may eventually be effective in diabetics. Initial research shows improved insulin sensitivity. One 2015 study from Brazil showed reduced hemoglobin A1C (average blood sugar over 2-3 months) when a group of Type 2 diabetics were given milk fermented with strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. Inflammatory markers also decreased
Take-away message?
Eat lots of fermented foods: yogurt, buttermilk, kefir and the like. Increase those foods needed to feed them. Prebiotics are available in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Take a supplement.

We need all the help we can get.

Roundup Reshapes the World

Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup–the blockbuster Monsanto herbicide used on crops, gardens and lawns– is found in breast milk.

Not a surprise, really. The toxic chemical is liberally dumped on corn, soy and most fields across the planet now that GMO seeds—also made and licensed in perpetuity by Monsanto—ensure survival against Roundup.

How convenient. Genetically modified seeds grow into tough plants, impervious to Roundup’s toxicity. But scrappy weeds are no match for withering blasts of Roundup. More seeds sold, more Roundup withstood. A win-win for Monsanto.

But for the world?

More food, of course, feeds more people which is welcome relief. But all too quickly, the problem has transitioned into obesity and all the chronic disease it ignites. Poor countries such as Egypt where 75% of women are overweight can ill-afford such health costs.

Glyphosate is a known endocrine disruptor. Its ubiquity makes that a problem.

One recent study on male rats showed glyphosate to damage or kill testicular cells at high exposures and to decrease testosterone by 35% at low exposure levels.

Does glyphosate also contribute to globesity?

Maybe. Appetite systems and energy metabolism depend on endocrine systems. Glyphosate is likely to harm in many ways: This review appears in Entropy, April 2103:

“Glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease…”

For an interesting look into a look at how science intersects with the leviathan forces of profit, read this discussion of research into both GMO seeds and glyphosate, in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

How to undo this? Demand organic food, use natural weed killing methods on lawns, replace lawns with attractive stones or ground cover or march on Washington as a group called Moms across America are doing today as they demand the EPA pay attention to their concerns about Roundup.



Too Many C-Sections

Cesarean sections are overused in the United States, often for the convenience of the mother or more likely the obstetrician. One in three babies are delivered this way. Some countries including Mexico and Italy do even more.

Besides being riskier for the mother (anesthesia, infection), C-sections deprive the newborn of a mother’s special mix of microbes. Evidence from Harvard in 2012 found that delivery by C-section doubled the odds of later obesity in the child.

Tina Rosenberg for the New York Times compared rates and possible contributors in several locations.

In the May 7 story, she reported that Los Angeles Community Hospital did C-sections in nearly 63 percent of the lowest-risk births in 2012 while the rate for San Francisco General Hospital was 10 percent. Clearly, hospital procedure was driving such huge differences. Using salaried doctors instead of fee-per-service personnel was one factor that seemed to limit the numbers, she found.

Rosenberg goes on to discuss motivations and implications for the overuse. Read In Delivery Rooms, Reducing Births of Convenience.

Antibiotics Cause Weight gain

New research from Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France revealed that long-term antibiotic therapy caused weight gain along with changes in gut microbes. Forty-eight patients being treated with doxycycline and hydroxychloroquine for Q fever were compared to 34 control subjects.

Nearly one in four of the treated patients gained from two to 13 kg (five to 30 lbs). None of the patients without antibiotics gained weight. The study which appears in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy adds to the case that antibiotics contribute to obesity.

Treated patients had lower concentrations of beneficial bacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Lactobacilli. Gut microbes prior to treatment predicted who would gain.

According to the abstract here, Q fever causes endocarditis, an infectious inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Endocarditis can damage the heart valves, and has a high mortality rate. And hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug that is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus.

Probiotics along with a low-calorie diet may prevent some of this significant weight gain during the lengthy—18 months—antibiotic treatment.



Book Stores and Beaches Do Mix

Thanks to all who attended my pseudo-TED (Truly Enlightening Discourse) talk in Santa Monica on Saturday at Barnes & Noble on 3rd Street Promenade.I know it wasn’t easy given that the awesome SoCal beach was just two blocks away. There are still a few signed copies of Globesity: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were Making You Fat available at the store (call 310 260 9110 to reserve or order). Hannah, thanks for the deck work. Frank, thanks for the lovely event set-up.

FYI: TED’s mission statement:

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other…”

Community of curious souls. I’d be honored to be part of that.

No Pain, More Gain Later with Caesarean Section

Babies born by caesarean section may be more likely to be fat as adults.

A recent review of the literature found that the odds of overweight and obesity were 20 percent greater in these types of births than those delivered vaginally. The 2014 study appears here in PLOS ONE.

Earlier research in Brazil  based on data on a group followed from 1978 and reported in 2011, also found obesity higher in the surgical group than in the labor-intensive birth group. (15% vs 10%).

Microbes may be the difference. A mother’s unique set imprints the baby as it emerges through the birth canal. But if the newborn takes a shortcut out of the tummy as in a caesarean section, it misses out on the magic and instead mops up the bacteria of the doctor or nurse or whoever else is working the room. Certain microbes may lead to obesity by harvesting more energy from food, making more fat cells and by triggering inflammation. Germ warfare indeed.

C-sections disturb the natural order.

Now compare obesity rates with caesarean section numbers. Both have soared in the last few decades, nearly in tandem. Rates have nearly doubled for both in some countries over that time period.

One in three mothers in the United States now gives birth this way.

In China, an astonishing 60% are delivered surgically while Brazil posts a 47% rate, according to recent reports.

The World Health Organization recommends that only 15% of births be caesarean; it should be done only when mother or child is at risk with complications. Too often, they are performed as a convenience for the mother or doctor, with little thought to the implications of the choice. The miracle of a birth of a new being produced by the perfect storm of biological and hormonal changes deserves better. Just because we can make an appointment on our smartphones for a C-section as easily as a pedicure, doesn’t mean we’re getting smarter.

The fallout from doing so may show up on the scales years later, making good health elusive.


Antipsychotic Drugs Linked to Microbiota in Obesity

Anti-psychotic medications are well-known to cause weight gain in both adults and children. First generation drugs as well as many popular second-generation can lead to considerable weight gain, often thrusting people of normal weight into obesity in less than a year. In addition, certain gut microbes—firmicutes– are associated with increased obesity. 

Could they be related?

 Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in the United States asked that question: is there a link between antipsychotic drugs targets and the microbiota? 

Results of their investigation? There were “strong associations between protein targets of antipsychotics and microbiota sequences directly related to weight regulation in human body.” Read the study here.

While this demands further study, the possibilities are promising. The weight gain associated with these drugs often leads patients into other obesity-related disorders, including diabetes. Good questions lead to good science.

Can You Catch Obesity Like a Cold?

The human adenovirus 36 (Ad-36) is linked to increased fat in animals and humans.

A recent survey in Chilpancingo, Mexico of 75 children found more Ad-36 present in obese than normal weight children. The human adenovirus 36 (Ad-36) is linked to increased fat in animals and humans. A recent survey in Chilpancingo, Mexico of 75 children found more Ad-36 present in obese than normal weight children.

Other global studies concur:

  • Sweden: Earlier research in children saw that Ad-36 infection was linked with obesity.
  • United States: Antibodies to Ad-36 was higher in a population of obese children. In fact, it was associated with as much as 35-pound greater body weight.
  • South Korea: a group of obese schoolchildren, infected children had higher BMIs.

Infectious agents can be a contributor to the obesity epidemic. How does this happen?

Scientists think that Ad-36 infection increases preadipocytes as well as fat accumulation in mature fat cells. Obesity is caused by many things and infection should be considered as one more piece of this epidemic puzzle.