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What is Infectobesity?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Infectobesity is a newly coined term for a theory that some people who are obese actually have different bacterial flora that may cause them to process food differently. This can cause greater weight gain and fat storage as a result. The theory of infectobesity might radically alter medical treatments, societal views and discrimination against those who are significantly obese.

There are some fifty genes that have been shown to make people more prone to put on weight. However, infectobesity posits that some people gain significant weight not because of genetics or overeating, but because of different or higher numbers of microbes in the gut. Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar coined the term, infectobesity. Dr. Dhurandhar currently heads a team at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana.

Dhurandar’s team is examining the possible relationship of adenoviruses, which cause respiratory tract congestion, and some of the “common” colds, to obesity. Other groups are studying the relationship of specific gut microbes to determine whether some may cause people to rapidly gain weight.

Though these studies into infectobesity did not begin until 2001, there has been significant progress. Currently there are at least six known viruses that have been linked to the development of fat tissue in animals. However, not all humans contracting these viruses will see weight gain as a result.

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A team led by Dr. Richard Atkinson is evaluating the role of microbes in the gut as possible causes of infectobesity. Atkinson believes that there are many people who are obese because of overeating. In fact, this has been firmly established. Yet, medicine and science have failed to account for those people who are obese and do not overeat.

From a medical research standpoint, studies in infectobesity are still in their infancy. One cannot even call genetic research on the subject of obesity complete. Yet for those who have spent a lifetime struggling against gaining weight, these new theories on infectobesity may offer significant hope.

It is fairly clear that it can be possible to change microbes in the gut, through antibiotic use, or through probiotic diets. However, scientists may ultimately find that there is not a simple reason, but a rather complex one that contributes to obesity. It is possible that infectobesity is only a partial answer, and that an intricate relationship may exist between genes, diet, and germs.

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