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Type of bacteria in the gut may influence obesity

May 6, 2010 | 12:27 pm

Bacteria An intriguing theory is developing that the risk of obesity has something to do with the type of bacteria in one's gut. A new study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, for example, has found that people with gut bacteria that causes a high amount of methane gas tend to have higher body mass index.

It's well known that there is great individual variation in bacteria in the gut. Genetics, foods, antibiotics and other factors can cause change in that bacteria. Bacteria help to break down food and produce various types of gas, such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Different people will produce different types of gas.

Dr. Mark Pimentel and his colleagues at Cedars gave 58 people a breath test to measure methane gas. About 20% of the participants tested positive for methane. Those people also had a body mass index up to 7 points higher than patients who did not show the presence of methane. It's possible that methane from methane-producing gut bacteria can slow down digestion and increase the uptake of calories, the authors said. The study was presented Wednesday at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in New Orleans.

Other studies are hinting at this connection too. An interesting story in Thursday's issue of MIT Technology Review, "You are your bacteria," discusses the role of gut bacteria variation among individuals and how that bacteria can be altered and play a role in disease.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: E. coli bacteria. Credit: Dr. Vanessa Sperandio / UTSMC

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