In Obesity, Might the Microflora Have a Role to Play?
> 8/14/2006 10:35:26 AM

An extensive report in yesterday's New York Times Magazine suggests that there may be a third, previously understudied factor of obesity. The equation of calories-in minus calories-out equals weight gain has long been understood and absorbed by the public. But now researchers suggest that the microbes that exist in every person may play a large role in deciding who gains weight and who loses.

In her story Fat Factors, writer Robin Marantz Henig speaks with many scientists and researchers who provide evidence that obesity, or the amount to which each of us gains and loses weight, may be effected not only by our behavior and our genetics, but also by the micro organisms that populate our entire body. Many of these organisms live in our stomach and are responsible for assisting in the digestion process. The logic goes that not all our bodies contain similar organisms, and some organisms may be better at processing food than others. If this is the case, those of us who have microbes (the collection of which form what many refer to as the microflora) that help us better turn food into energy, thereby making our bodies more efficient, may actually be victims of efficiency--with excess calories being stored as fat.

Henig highlights three doctors at the forefront of this line of research: Dr. Richard Atkinson, Dr. Jeffrey Gordon and Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar. Each has come to the field for different reasons and by a different path, but each believes in the same fundamental concept: through unlocking the effects of the microflora on obesity we will better understand the disease and fight the growing epidemic that places untold burdens on the health care system. By analyzing and cataloging the different organisms inside each of us, Gordon believes we will one day be able to tailor diets to the individual and avoid much unnecessary weight gain.

The take home message from this piece however, is much the same as every other obesity article. New research may help us gain more perspective on obesity and its causes, but facts on the ground have not and will not change much. Any new treatments are years, if not decades, away from making an impact. As we've known for some time, the only way to turn the tide against obesity is to eat sensibly and exercise more. Clearly, there are other factors that effect weight gain, and if there is anything that this new research can do, it is help break down negative stereotypes.

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