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Gut bacteria and obesity

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    Gut bacteria and obesity

    Obesity is more than a cosmetic concern, because it increases a person's risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes and many other serious health problems. It's well-understood that consuming more calories than you expend through exercise and daily activities causes weight gain. But with about one in every three American adults now considered obese, researchers are attempting to identify additional factors that affect a person's tendency to gain and retain excess weight.

    In the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers from Mayo Clinic Arizona and the Biodesign Institute at ASU examine the role that bacteria found in the human gastrointestinal tract play in regulating weight and the development of obesity.

    Known as gut microbiota, the trillions of bacteria that populate the human gastrointestinal tract perform a variety of chores. These "friendly" microbes help extract calories from what we eat, help store these calories for later use, and provide energy and nutrients for the production of new bacteria to continue this work.

    According to John DiBaise, a Mayo Clinic Arizona gastroenterologist and lead author of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings article, several animal studies suggest that gut microbiota are involved in regulating weight and that modifying these bacteria could one day be a treatment option for obesity. Other authors of the article include Husen Zhang, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and Bruce E. Rittmann of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Environmental Biotechnology; and Mayo Clinic Arizona researchers Michael Crowell and G. Anton Decker.

    One study cited by the authors observed that young, conventionally reared mice have a significantly higher body fat content than a laboratory-bred, germ-free strain of mice that lack these bacteria, even though they consumed less food than their germ-free counterparts.

    When the same research group transplanted gut microbiota from normal mice into germ-free mice, the germ-free mice experienced a 60 percent increase in body fat within two weeks, without any increase in food consumption or obvious differences in energy expenditure.