Obesity is a problem that millions of people in the U.S. have to strive to overcome every day. More than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese – that’s 1 in every 3 adult Americans! Obesity contributes to thousands of deaths every year, and the medical cost of obesity in the country is $147 billion (data from 2008).
But, could it be that obesity starts from the inside, and not from the outside?
A new study has turned up interesting evidence to connect the gut flora in the stomach and intestines to medical complications that result from obesity. The richness of the bacteria in the gut and stomach affects the level of susceptibility to various diseases caused by obesity – including diabetes, heart disease, and more. This link could very well provide insight into how to combat obesity and obesity-related diseases.
It has long been known that the gut flora living in the stomach and intestines are directly linked to overall health – both digestive health and immune health. About 80 percent of your immune system functions and processes occur in your intestines. This means that a person’s overall health is largely determined by the gut flora living in their bowels.
Obesity has only recently been linked to the health and richness of the intestinal flora. In a study that examined nearly 300 Danish subjects, 169 of the subjects were categorized as obese, and 123 of them were not. The study was able to determine a very fascinating outcome: the people that had a richness of healthy gut flora were less susceptible to chronic inflammation and obesity-related diseases, while those that lacked the healthy gut flora were more likely to develop these diseases.
Interestingly enough, both obese and non-obese subjects were placed in each category. Some of the obese subjects had a richness of gut flora that made them less likely to develop obesity-related diseases, while a number of the non-obese subjects lacked the gut flora – making them more susceptible to the diseases despite their not being obese.
Of course, the obese subjects in the group lacking rich intestinal bacteria were much more likely to develop cardiovascular conditions – such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes – than the healthy, non-obese subjects. This means that the richness of intestinal bacteria could determine the future health of those suffering from obesity.
The international consortium MetaHIT conducted the research, with Jeroen Raes of VIB and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, who headed-up the team. Raes claimed that the results from their study could have enormous implications for the prevention and treatment of obesity – a rising issue that has now been deemed an epidemic.
Of course, the results were limited, and the understanding of the connection between the gut flora and obesity is still in its early stages. Jeroen Raes has founded the Flemish Intestinal Flora Project to further study the connection between obesity and the gut flora, with the goal of delving deeper into the insights provided by this study. Hopefully, with further research, these experts will be able to understand a bit more about how bacterial flora can help to prevent obesity and obesity-related health disorders.
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