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Obesity Genetics and Bacteria: Another Piece of a Strange Puzzle

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Obesity genetics and bacteria are strange bedfellows.  The causes of obesity are far more complicated than we thought just a few short years ago.  Diet and exercise are important, for sure.  But scientists are discovering that genetics and the gut microbiome are be key factors too.  The gut microbiome, if you didn’t know, are the trillions of bacteria that reside in our digestive tracts.  New research has uncovered a piece of how genetics and bacteria interact to increase the chances that someone will become obese, or develop diabetes.

Obesity Genetics and Bacteria Nutshell

Most of us will remember that people can’t digest plant fiber.  That is why we don’t bother to eat grass.  Or leaves.  Or at least most leaves . . . the kind on trees.  Or shrubberies.  Cows and other hoofed animals can eat these things because their stomachs are designed differently.  Bacteria in a cow’s stomach have time to ferment grass and such and break down all those long cellulose chains into useable starch for the cow.  It turns out, however, that some gut bacteria in humans can break down plant fiber into short chain fatty acids.   Humans can then take these fatty acids and convert them into fat.

Obesity and Genetics.

Here comes the genetics part:  While we host trillions of bacteria, we also control their populations.   Overgrowth of bacteria is controlled by a gene called TLR5.  People whose TLR5 doesn’t work that well cannot control gut bacteria as well.  About 10% of our population has a mutated TLR5 that just doesn’t work.  At all.   Having this mutation increases your risk of metabolic syndrome: obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Having this mutation also increases fat deposits in the liver.  If you are incredibly geeky (happy emoticom) you can read this “just out” article on genetics and obesity and bacteria here.  If you are less technically oriented, hopefully this information will of help as it is.  If you are struggling with your weight and trying to stay healthy, keep up the good work.   It actually is harder for some people than it is for others.   Different people can actually eat the same thing, and get different amounts of calories out of it.

Back in the old days having this mutation might have been beneficial.  You would have been able to extract more energy from food, which would have been great in times of famine.  But we now live in a time of excess.

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