The Bugs that Bite
The human gut is home to trillions of bacteria that help to break down food and fight off invading pathogens. Researchers are now considering the possibility that some of those have an effect on Obesity.
There is some reason to believe this. According to the resent research, Obese people have higher levels of a type of bacteria MORE efficient at breaking down food, than do thin people.
We humans need these bacteria to break down food, and Obese peoples guts seem to do a better job at it.
And because Obese people are more efficient at breaking down their food, their bodies are receiving more Calories (read: energy) from their diet, than an equivalent amount of food fed to a thin person. In turn, those calories are deposited on the waists, thighs, hips, chins, etc of the obese.
This is what scientists call a positive feedback loop (ironic, as more often than not, the effects of a positive feedback loop are decidedly not positive).
But hold on.
“If they are right, this could really be a significant advance,” said Dr. Richard Atkinson of the Obetech Obesity Research Center in Richmond, Va., who was not involved in the research, “But I am not sure they are interpreting their data right. Correlation is not causation.”
(A common problem in data interpretation.)
Another scientist who was not involved in the research, agreed. Neurobiologist Hans-Rudolf Berthoud of Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge said, “This doesn’t show that the bacteria cause obesity … This is another excuse you give people to get obese, and that is really the wrong signal to send.”
There are major environmental (diet, lack of exercise, fast food) and other factors at work. It is more likely that the Weight gain itself is what caused there to be more of the bacteria, than than the other way around.
An article in Nature has this to say:
“And it is unclear whether gut microbes are really a significant contributor to the ballooning obesity epidemic, or whether other factors are far more important.”
Exactly. I and plenty of other personal trainers will tell you that the vast majority of obese clients we’ve worked with had unhealthy eating habits, and virtually no workout routine, when they first came to us. And if the Trainer is worth their salt, then once these problems were taken care of, the person lost weight.
Key points of dissent include:
The bacterial differences were too small to explain the obesity epidemic.
Maybe your weight changes your bacteria, instead of the other way around.
The misinterpretation of the results in this study may lead to another excuse not to diet and exercise.
We’ve learned so well, in fact, that we’re getting fat. Not just the United States or Europe, but the whole world. Egyptian, Mexican, and South African women are now as fat as Americans. Far more Filipino adults are now overweight than underweight. In China, one in five adults is too heavy, and the rate of overweight in children is 28 times higher than it was two decades ago. In Thailand, Kuwait, and Tunisia, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are soaring.
There may be a correlation between obesity and these eating bacteria. But, that doesn’t mean a miracle drug is on the horizon that will save you from your fat.
It is still in your best interest to adopt a solidly healthy diet, and have a well structured work-out routine.