As obesity becomes an American epidemic, it brings a high price tag in the form of escalating death-rates, rising medical costs and an increasingly callous social stigma. Researchers are finding evidence that may shed more light on the complex group of factors that determine weight gain and metabolic rates. Genetic makeup and food intake may not be the only determiners – Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, Director of the Center for Genome Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is heading a team of researchers at his lab to determine the correlation between weight gain and the colonies of microflora that inhabit our stomachs and intestines.
Here's an excerpt from the January 6, 2007 LA Times on Dr. Gordon's just-released study:
Intestinal bacteria found to be culprit in obesity
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer
Bacteria in the intestines can modify the body's biochemistry to alter the amount of food that becomes stored in fat, according to a finding in mice reported this week that could eventually help the nation's efforts to control obesity.
A team from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis had reported last month that obese mice -- and humans -- have an unusually high proportion of a family of intestinal bacteria that are exceptionally efficient at breaking down complex sugars in the diet into a form that is readily absorbed. The upshot was that the bacteria make more calories available to the body for a given quantity of food, leading to weight gain.
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