Intestinal Bacteria May Contribute to Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

According to researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, obesity and metabolic syndrome may be partially brought on by intestinal bacteria that increase appetite and insulin resistance. The two can lead to overeating and high blood sugar levels – both important factors in the eventual onset of type 2 diabetes. Perhaps even more interesting, the scientists found that the bacteria can be transferred from one mouse to another, creating increased appetite and insulin resistance in an animal that had previously experienced neither.

As a result, the researchers believe that excessive consumption of calories may be more than simply a matter of undisciplined eating. If scientists can duplicate the results with human test subjects, they might find additional ways to treat or forestall obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Both animals and people acquire intestinal bacteria from their family members soon after birth. If bacteria that can predispose individuals to overeating and eventual insulin resistance are so easily transferred, it means that the environment, not just genetics, can lead to those outcomes.

The Emory researchers think, however, that there may be a genetic component to the altered bacteria. They are now looking into a gene called toll-like receptor 5 (TLR5), which plays a role in controlling intestinal bacteria, to see if a deficiency in TLR5 in humans and mice is a key to increased appetite.

The Emory findings were published online in the March 4 issue of Science.

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