Examining the link between bacteria and obesity

We have, it seems, moved on from acknowledging it takes a village to raise a human being. We are well into the realm of realization that it takes a village just to be one. More and more studies are demonstrating the importance of the germs that outnumber our cells by an order of magnitude at least, to virtually every aspect of physiology. But while epiphanies of this sort are redolent with promise, they can be dizzying as well, and pose a threat of disequilibrium and distraction. If we can miss the forest for the trees, there is, I think, a comparable risk of missing the importance of lifestyle for the Lactobacilli. My motivation here is the hope that we will not.

While I can no longer readily recall what life was like before email, I certainly do recall medical practice before the widespread popularity of probiotics. Only very recently did the use of ingestible bacteria transition from the realm of far-fetched to all-but-standard, and from “you must be kidding!” to “where to do I get mine?” Not all that long ago, the only good germ was a dead germ.

Progress since the initial uptake of the probiotic concept has been astounding. The now well-established potential to prevent and treat C. difficile colitis, a dire complication of antibiotic therapy, with probiotics is a considerable advance all by itself.

The more we’ve learned about the importance of our resident microbes, the more we’ve learned about the need and opportunity to learn more. The process may be likened to climbing a hill, and then gaining a view of the higher hills and mountains beyond. There is a lot of climbing left to do.

One peak now within view involves the important relationships among our immune system, cohabiting bacteria, and other organisms. In An Epidemic of Absence, Moises Velaszquez-Manoff makes a thorough and compelling case for the unintended consequences of sanitizing our environments and the eradication of parasites. How best to apply such lessons to the management of allergy and autoimmune disease is a work in progress, but that it’s vitally important work now seems abundantly clear.

The other peak before us is the one that worries me a bit. It beckons with tantalizing new findings related to weight control.

We have known for quite some time that commensal microbes play a vital role in digestion. In fact, we surmised this about bacteria living in our guts before we knew much else about them; after all, what else would they be doing there? More recently, we have come to learn that bacterial colony counts influence our energy efficiency and the number of calories we can extract from food. Differences in the microbiome can make it harder or easier to lose weight, and may account for more flagrant cases of weight loss resistance. In some instances, when all else fails, the wholesale transplantation of gut microbes may allow for weight control.

This provocative tale is further embellished by a cluster of recent papers in preeminent scientific journals. An article published in Nature Reviews in early August explores the causal pathway from intestinal microbes to obesity risk. A study published in late August in Nature compared the microbiota in 123 lean and 169 obese Danish adults. The authors report greater genetic variety among gut microbes in lean individuals than obese. A brief report of an intervention in the same issue of the journal reported an increase in the genetic richness of gut microbes when obese and overweight individuals were put on a weight-reducing diet. And even more of Nature’s rarefied real estate has been allocated to this topic to accommodate commentaries and editorials.

And a report in Science indicated that the gut microbes from obese adult twins could make germ-free mice get fat, while the gut microbes from their lean siblings had the opposite effect.

Why does this all worry me?

I fully acknowledge the almost certain importance of our microbial diversity to energy balance and weight regulation. I accept that indelible links are being forged among genes, germs, and resultant girth.

But we are all too easily distracted from the accessible means of both losing weight and finding health, by new and exotic theories. Excessive preoccupation with the microbiome could lead us into our next great boondoggle.

Consider that behaviors we control directly, as opposed to microbial colonies we may not, explain 80 percent of the variation in the risk for all major chronic diseases. Consider that overwhelmingly, when people eat well and exercise, they lose weight — and if the behaviors persist, so does the weight loss. Consider that obesity was rather uncommon a half century ago in the days before drive-through fast-food restaurants, a vast proliferation of junk foods, and a comparable proliferation of labor-saving technologies.

In other words, while scrutiny of our microbes may help account for enigmatic cases of weight gain, they are, for most of us, the trees that may cause us to overlook the forest. The fixable causes of obesity and chronic disease are on prominent display, all around us. Most of us will gain weight when we take in too many calories, even if from wholesome sources. Most of us will lose weight if we restrict calories enough, even if those calories come from Twinkies. Energy balance does not seem to require a bacterial referendum.

For the most part, people who exercise diligently and eat very well are both leaner and healthier than others who don’t. What a remarkable coincidence it would be if those who best attended to calories in and calories out just happened to be those with the genes and germs conducive to trim guts.

This does not mean the germs and genes in our guts are not germane to weight and health; they clearly are. But the available evidence suggests they are at least as much effects as causes.

In other words, the same adverse exposures that tend to make us sick and fat appear to do much the same to our resident bugs. It doesn’t much change the relevance of junky diets and physical inactivity to poor health and weight gain to note that along with all of the other adverse effects of such behaviors, they disrupt and distort the microbiome. All this really means as that we, and our germs, are in this together — we flourish, or founder, together.

For a quick analogy, imagine if we had just discovered atherosclerosis and reached the conclusion that it is the “real” cause of heart disease. That would be true, but it would be a serious mistake to toss out what we knew about tobacco, physical activity, and diet as a result. Those factors influence atherosclerosis, which in turn influences the likelihood of heart attack. Similarly, shifts in our bacterial colonies may be part of the pathway by which behaviors translate into changes in both weight, and health. This is in no way an invitation to jettison anything we already knew about the importance of those behaviors.

There may well be some opportunities to address the microbiome directly, from probiotics to fecal transplant. There are, analogously, ways to address atherosclerotic plaque directly with angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery. But just as lifestyle can keep arteries healthy in the first place, or even restore them to health, so too, it seems, can the very same lifestyle practices that protect our health do the same for our inner menagerie.

Over the years, we have heard about many “obesity genes.” But these genes were around long before obesity was a salient public health concern. Genes that haven’t changed recently can’t really account for recent changes in epidemiology. Similarly, while our understanding of our intimate codependence on gut microbes is fairly recent, the codependence is not. The bugs were there all along. If they have suddenly become complicit in epidemic obesity, it might be tempting to pass the buck to the bugs, but it begs the question: What changed them?

This, in turn, offers the silver lining of insight within the dark clouds of potential diversion. One of the prevailing mistakes about obesity is to pin it all on personal responsibility. There is, clearly, a case for personal responsibility; but the choices we make are in turn governed by the choices we have. It never made sense to presume that the current generation of 7-year-olds was less endowed with personal responsibility than every prior generation of 7-year-olds; but they sure are fatter! It makes even less sense to ascribe less personal responsibility to the current generation of Saccharomyces.

Of course, the “fault” lies not in our Saccharomyces! The explanations for what is awry within us are all around us; the very factors of lifestyle, environment and culture that have changed us have changed our resident flora as well. The behaviors that lead to better health and healthier weight may do so in part by moderating the expression of genes, and favorably shifting the populations of gut microbes.

It takes a healthy village within, it seems, to be a healthy human being. It still takes healthy choices by that human being to tend the village.

David L. Katz is the founding director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. He is the author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well.

Healthy gut bacteria prevent obesity: Study


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(NaturalNews) The key to shedding those excess pounds and achieving that lean figure you have always dreamed about could be as simple as eating more bacteria. A new study out of Washington University in St. Louis has found that maintaining healthy and balanced gut bacteria — that is, the beneficial microbes that naturally populate your intestinal tract — may help prevent weight gain and actually fight obesity, which now plagues more than one-third of all Americans.

Dr. Jeffrey Gordon and his colleagues made this important discovery after observing the effects of intestinal germs implanted into several groups of pathogen-free mice. WU graduate student Vanessa Ridaura, who worked alongside Dr. Gordon for the study, took gut bacteria from four pairs of twins, each of which included both an obese and a lean sibling. One pair of the twins was also identical, which was meant to rule out any possibility that weight differences might somehow be inherited.

The team transplanted gut bacteria from these eight individuals into the intestines of young mice, which were specifically bred to lack their own natural bacteria, and watched for variations in how these mice developed over time. In the end, it was noted that the mice who received gut bacteria from the obese individuals tended to not only gain more weight than the other mice but also undergo some serious metabolic changes that left them significantly more unhealthy.

What helped further prove that the bacterial source made all the difference was the fact that all the mice ate the same amount of food, and yet only those implanted with the obese bacteria experienced weight gain and health deterioration. The reason, say experts, is that obese people tend to harbor a less diverse array of beneficial bacteria in their guts, while leaner people possess the bacterial variations and balance necessary to maintain a proper and healthy weight.

But the findings do not stop here. After performing this first set of experiments, the team decided to put mice from both the lean and obese groups into cages with one another to observe how cross-exposure to different bacterial profiles might affect the mice’s health and weight. For those who are unaware, mice tend to eat feces, which contain intestinal bugs and other markers of gut composition.

Not surprisingly, this grouping of the mice and the resultant exposure to varying bacterial profiles led to a phenomenon called bacterial swapping, in which bacteria from each of the mice comingled with one another to create new bacterial profiles. But what came as a surprise was the fact that bacteria from the lean mice invaded the intestines of the obese mice, triggering positive changes in both weight and metabolism.

“It was almost as if there were potential job vacancies,” explained Dr. Gordon about the apparently deficient bacterial profiles of the obese mice. At the same time, the positive changes observed in the obese mice were not reciprocal in the lean mice, meaning the introduction of bacteria from the obese mice did not result in any negative changes in the lean mice.

According to Michael Fischbach from the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study but spoke to The New York Times about it, these findings provide “the clearest evidence to date that gut bacteria can help cause obesity.” Adding to this sentiment, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier from Harvard Medical School told reporters that the findings, which were recently published in the journal Science, are “pretty striking.”

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Healthy gut bacteria prevent obesity: Study

Can Bacteria Fight Obesity? Gut Bacteria From Thin Humans Can …


Why are some people fat? It’s not just a question that fat people ask themselves, but also one that drives much medical research because obesity increases the risk of serious illnesses including heart disease and diabetes.

A study recently published in Science adds gut bacteria to the list of possible causes of obesity.

The intestine is home to trillions of microbes that help the body break down and use food. The particulars of the mix have been found to vary significantly from person to person, even among identical twins.

Gordon-RidauraGordon-RidauraIn an effort to isolate the contribution of gut bacteria to weight, researchers led by Jeffrey Gordon, of Washington University in St. Louis took the bacteria from pairs of identical and fraternal twins, each with one obese twin and one lean, and put it in previously germ-free cloned mice. (We glossed tastefully over the matter of the fecal transplant.)

The results indicate that bacteria does in fact play a powerful role: The mouse that got the obese twin’s bacteria grew fat and developed metabolic problems linked to insulin resistance, even when fed only low-fat mouse chow.

The researchers then housed the fat and thin mice together, allowing their gut bacteria to mix. (Mice housed in the same cage typically eat each other’s droppings.) The thin bacteria beat out the fat bacteria in the obese mice, and they became thin again.

So is obesity purely a question of gut bacteria? No such luck. The “thin” bacteria, specifically a group called Bacteroidetes, was only able to triumph when the fat mice were eating low-fat mouse chow. When they were fed a higher-fat food meant to mimic a typical American diet, obese mice kept the obese twin’s gut bacteria — and the excess weight.

Bacteroides biacutisBacteroides biacutis

Bacteroides biacutis

“Eating a healthy diet encourages microbes associated with leanness to quickly become incorporated into the gut. But a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables thwarts the invasion of microbes associated with leanness. This is important as we look to develop next-generation probiotics as a treatment for obesity,” said Gordon.

It can’t be long before we see Bacteroidetes and other potentially thinning “probiotics” for sale in the supermarket next to green tea.

But, buyer beware, the mouse studies are far from conclusive. The next step for Gordon and his team will be growing microbes in the lab and mixing them to nail down which combinations have which metabolic effects.

“There’s intense interest in identifying microbes that could be used to treat diseases,” he said.

Especially diseases that make us fat.

Photos: Lexicon Genetics Incorporated via Wikimedia Commons; Gordon with graduate student and co-author Vanessa Ridaura, E. Holland Durando, Washington University of St. Louis; CDC via Wikimedia Commons

Low diversity of gut bacteria linked to heart disease, obesity

By Staff Writer
NYR Natural News

Natural Health News — New research shows that there is a link between number and diversity of bacterial species in the gut and the risk of chronic disease.

An international consortium of researchers report that overweight people with fewer bacterial species in their intestines are more likely to develop complications, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. In addition, a gut with decreased bacterial richness appears to function entirely differently to the healthy variety with greater diversity.

Says lead researcher Jeroen Raes from the University of Brussels: “This is an amazing result with possibly enormous implications for the treatment and even prevention of the greatest public health issue of our time.”

Diversity is the key

Gut bacteria strengthens our immune system, produces vital vitamins and communicates with the nerve cells and hormone-producing cells within the intestinal system. The researchers add that gut bacteria also produces a variety of “bioactive substances” which enter the bloodstream, affecting our biology.

The gut needs a wide diversity of intestinal bacteria in order to maintain all these processes. In the current study people who were overweight were more likely to have low diversity in their gut flora.

The bacterial link

In this current study researchers took a closer look at the intestinal flora of 169 obese Danes and 123 non-obese Danes. The results were published in the journal Nature.

According to Raes “We were able to distinguish between two groups based on their intestinal flora: people with a large richness of bacterial species in their intestines and people with a fewer bacterial species. A species-rich bacterial flora appeared to function differently compared to the poorer variety. It was surprising to see that obese and non-obese people were found in both groups.”

The scientists found that the group with lower species richness in their intestinal flora was more susceptible to developing obesity-related conditions and chronic inflammation.

In addition, the obese people in this group were more at risk of cardiovascular conditions than the obese people in the other group. These are important results that suggest that it is not only weight gain and dietary habits that play a role in the development of medical complications in obese people.

Chicken and egg?

Metabolic conditions have become an epidemic partly due to the modern sedentary lifestyle and the and easy access to large amounts of energy-dense food. It is expected that obesity will increase tremendously all over the world; from 400 million obese people in 2005, to more than 700 million in 2015.

Some people appear to be more vulnerable to putting on eight than others and many studies over the years have examined the possible cause of this.

The researchers say they do not know whether lack of intestinal bacteria is the cause of obesity, or whether obesity causes a decrease in intestinal bacteria.

However, previous research has also suggested a link between gut bacteria and obesity. A study from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, for example, found that certain types of bacteria in the gut cause it to take more calories from food, therefore leading to weight gain.

Dietary measures

Another finding of the international study was that a quarter of the participants had 40% fewer gut bacteria genes and correspondingly fewer bacteria than average.

Extrapolated to the entire population this suggests that a low number and diversity of gut bacteria could play a major role in health problems.

They say they cannot yet explain fully why some people have fewer intestinal bacteria compared with others, but they believe our diet may be a contributing factor.

They point to a 2012 study from a French research team, which revealed that a group of overweight participants who followed a low-fat diet for 6 weeks and who had fewer intestinal bacteria at the beginning of the diet, showed an increase in gut bacteria in both variety and amount.

“Our intestinal bacteria are actually to be considered an organ just like our heart and brain, and the presence of health-promoting bacteria must therefore be cared for in the best way possible. Over the next years, we will be gathering more knowledge of how best to do this.”

Obesity could be caused by bacteria: French study

Is obesity caused by something other than the common explanations of a bad diet and lack of excercise? According to a new study carried out in France the probelem could be linked to levels of bacteria in the gut.

Obesity and the medical problems it causes could be linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut according to findings of a new study in France.

Many believe obesity is caused by nothing other than poor diet and lack of exercise but the findings of the latest French-Danish study by the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), based in Paris point to a low count of a certain kind of “good” bacteria in the gut as another possible cause.

The study, carried out in both France and Denmark and published in scientific journal Nature, found a link between obesity and people with a low number of good bacteria present in their intestinal flora. Good bacteria are those which help digest food and fight against bad bacteria. People with a lower bacteria count were shown to be more susceptible to becoming obese.

“If you have less good bacteria, the risk of developing serious illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems is a lot higher” said Professor Dusko Erlich, the coordinator of the study.

Erlich added that the results were important because “we think that if we manage to replace these bacteria, it could help prevent excessive weight gain.” However, he admits that scientists first need to learn “how to cultivate the bacteria, which we are unable to do right now.”

Researchers studied 123 non–obese and 169 obese Danish people. They discovered that amongst the subjects studied, the people who had a greater presence of good bacteria in their intestines, had a greater resistance diseases like diabetes.

They also found that the obese people with less bacteria put on more weight than obese people with more intestinal bacteria.

Obesity is a major issue for Western countries, who are undertaking new studies to tackle the problem. In 2005 it was estimated that 500 million people were obese and this number looks set to rise to 700 million by 2015, reported French TV station Europe 1.

In a second study published in the same journal, researchers found that a diet rich in fibre and fruit and vegetables followed over a course of 12 weeks could significantly improve intestinal flora and increase the good bacteria in the gut, thus reducing some health complications linked to obesity.

This supports previous research showing that changes to diet can have direct effects on bacteria in the gut.

by Naomi Firsht


What do you think? Leave your comment below.

Good gut bacteria could protect obese people from heart disease and diabetes …

  • Scientists have discovered a link between obesity-related diseases and levels of bacteria found in the intestines
  • They also found that gut flora with low levels of bacterial diversity functions differently to those with a variety of microorganisms
  • Results
    suggest it is not only weight gain and dietary habits that play a role
    in the development of medical conditions in obese people

Emma Innes

13:18 EST, 28 August 2013


13:18 EST, 28 August 2013

Good bacteria in the gut protect obese people from heart attacks and strokes, according to scientists.

A study has found a link between the medical problems caused by being overweight, and the bacterial species in the intestines.

People with less of these bugs are more likely to develop metabolic disorders such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Good bacteria in the gut protect obese people from heart attacks and strokes, according to scientists

Good bacteria in the gut protect obese people from heart attacks and strokes, according to scientists. People with more good bacteria are less likely to develop heart disease and diabetes

A flora with decreased bacterial richness seems to function entirely differently to the healthy variety with greater diversity.

Professor Jeroen Raes, of Vrije University in Belgium, said: ‘This is an amazing result with possibly enormous implications for the treatment and even prevention of the greatest public health issue of our time.

‘But we are not there yet. Now we need studies in which we can monitor people for a longer period.’

Metabolic conditions are becoming endemic because of people failing to exercise and eating foods that are high in sugar and fat.

It is expected obesity levels will nearly double from 400 million in 2005, to more than 700 million in 2015 – and the trend is expected to persist at least until 2030.

Professor Raes and his colleagues examined the intestinal flora of 169 obese and 123 non-obese Danes and found those with low species diversity had more metabolic abnormalities, such as increased body fat and insulin resistance.

A flora with decreased bacterial richness seems to function entirely differently to the healthy variety with greater diversity

A flora with decreased bacterial richness seems to function entirely differently to the healthy variety with greater diversity

Professor Raes said: ‘We were able to distinguish between two groups based on their intestinal flora: people with a large richness of bacterial species in their intestines, and people with less bacterial species.

‘A species-rich bacterial flora appeared to function differently compared to the poorer variety. It was surprising to see obese and non-obese people were found in both groups.’

The scientists found the group with lower species richness in the intestinal flora were more susceptible to developing obesity-related conditions and chronic inflammation.

The obese people in this group were more at risk of cardiovascular conditions than the obese people in the other group.

The results are important because they suggest it is not only weight gain and dietary habits that play a role in the development of medical complications in obese people.

In a second study published in the same journal, Professor Stanislav Ehrlich of the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Jouy-en-Josas, France, showed eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can boost gut microbes.

He looked at 49 obese or overweight individuals and found increasing consumption of high-fibre foods led to more bacterial richness and improved some clinical symptoms associated with obesity.

The finding supports previous research linking diet composition to the structure of gut microbe populations – and suggests a permanent change may be achieved through adopting an appropriate diet.


Humans have about 3.5lbs of bacteria living in their intestines, according to a new study.

However, a quarter of people have guts which house fewer bacteria than they should do to ensure we stay healthy.

One in four people are lacking the healthy bacteria which help break down our food and maintain a healthy digestive system, scientists have discovered.

Experts looking at intestinal bacteria from 292 people in Denmark found that about a quarter of people have up to 40 per cent less gut bacteria than average.

These people are more likely to be obese and suffer from mild inflammation in the digestive tract and in the entire body.

This is known to affect metabolism and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Author of the study Oluf Pedersen, professor and scientific director at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, says we need plenty of bacteria in our guts in order to improve our health.

He compares the human gut and its bacteria with a tropical rainforest and explains that we need as much diversity as possible, and – as is the case with the natural tropical rainforests – decreasing diversity is a cause for concern.

In the study, which is published in the scientific journal Nature, Professor Pederson said: ‘It appears that the richer and more diverse the composition of our intestinal bacteria, the stronger our health.

‘The bacteria produce vital vitamins, mature and strengthen our immune system, and communicate with the many nerve cells and hormone-producing cells in the intestinal system.

‘And, not least, the bacteria produce a wealth of bioactive substances which penetrate into the bloodstream and affect our biology in countless ways.’

The comments below have not been moderated.

I’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and am having some natural yoghurt with breakfast each day to try to restore my good bacteria – still don’t feel so good – so I’m wondering whether to lash out the $30 or so for some refrigerated probiotics – I had once before and felt great soon after – hmm – maybe …


Sydney, Australia,
29/8/2013 02:22

Kefir is one of the options. Lactofermentation is another one. people have been doing it for centuries. It is easy, it is cheap, you can do it. The only thing, you have to get over your fear of bacteria instilled in you by the advertising of antibacterial products.


28/8/2013 22:54

In response to ‘Thomas. Hexham, UK’ there’s much research (finally!) into the importance of the human microbiome (our unique mix of gut/ intestinal bacteria) in relation to our health. The best ways – in my opinion – to increase the ‘good’ bacteria is to eat a balanced diet,* very* much limiting processed foods and sugars especially. Also, avoid broad spectrum antibiotics (which wipe out good bacteria and allow bad bacteria to flourish) unless absolutely necessary. Finally, find a really good broad probiotic – a good one will help to repopulate your gut with a diverse range of the ‘good’ bacteria.


28/8/2013 22:48

Does a lack of the ‘right’ bacteria cause obesity, or does obesity cause a lack of the ‘right’ bacteria?

Norfolk Dumpling

Great Yarmouth,
28/8/2013 22:37

I’d be more interested in the different enzymes present and variations in their expression over time and on specific diets. There is great difficulty isolating all the bacteria present in the gut flora whereas the enzymes they produce can be easily measured. Also, it would be necessary to know which enzymes- even different types of the same enzyme so methods of identifying these would be required.

It seems odd if they haven’t used this approach which is called metabolomics/proteomics because it is agreed for many areas of microbial ecology to be the best. It will lead to more very interesting information about the role of gut flora particularly any links to cancers in the gut and diet and other gastoenteric diseases as well as modulation of the immune response.

ken mist

28/8/2013 22:37

I got my water Kefir off ebay for 3 quid, been using it for over a year now and never looked back, cleared up my acne too


28/8/2013 22:27

The generational legacy of taking antibiotics for everything, including things they don’t help/cure.


GrowUp, United Kingdom,
28/8/2013 22:18

Non of it will replace a good diet and exercise. It’s not rocket science and it takes effort.

worried for the future

Leeds England,
28/8/2013 22:08

As someone else said – kefir. Google it. I make my own.

Brighton Boy

Brighton sometimes,
28/8/2013 22:07

Good bacteria is really relating to taking a good probiotic supplement daily and eating lots of live yogurt .


28/8/2013 22:05

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

Obesity-Cancer Link Explained By 'Gut Bug' Changes, New …

Print Friendlyobese moujse, lean mouse

Changes in the gut microbiome could help explain why obese mice are more likely to develop liver tumors (inset).
Credit: Eiji Hara/Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research

A long-standing question in medical science has been explaining the obesity-cancer link in humans; previous studies have shown that obesity increases the risk for many illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. But the exact biological mechanism that underlies this link has been elusive.

But now, a new study of mice microbiomes (the communities of trillions of microbes that live in the digestive tract) has revealed a DNA-damaging acid that seems to be the key molecule linking excess weight to cancer.

Researchers at the Cancer Institute at the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in Tokyo discovered that obesity in mice alters their microbiota — their intestinal “bug” population — which in turn leads to the unregulated production of an acid molecule called deoxycholic that can cause damage to a cells DNA and eventually cancer (e.g., liver cancer).

To uncover the elusive link, the team — led by Eiji Hara — studied two groups of mice: one lean group that was fed a normal diet, and a second group fed a fat-heavy diet (making them obese). To induce cancer in the mice (which normally don’t get much cancer) they exposed both groups to a cancer causing chemical shortly after birth.

Results of these experiments revealed the identical obesity-cancer link noted in humans: only 5% of the mice in the lean group developed cancer later in life, whereas all the obese mice did. But this result does not mean that diet itself is the primary trigger; when the team reproduced the experiment with mice that were genetically altered to become obese (though fed a normal diet), they found that these mice had an increased incidence of cancer. This seems a clear indication that it is obesity, rather than diet, that made the difference.

Pinning Down the Causal Mechanisms

The researchers found that the obese mice were more prone to live cancer and analysis of their tumors showed increased levels of key signaling molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines which, as the name suggests, promote inflammation (note: Inflammation has been strongly correlated with tumorogenesis in many studies, but whether it is the cause, or effect, of cancer is still debated).

The team also observed that the obese mice had higher levels of deoxycholic acid (DCA), which is a cellular by-product that results when gut microbes break down bile acid (which is manufactured in the liver). The DCA has been shown previously to damage DNA and is associated with some human cancers.

With the confirmation of these two indicators (the elevated DCA and cytokine levels), the researchers next analyzed the mice intestinal tracts. Intriguingly, they observed that the obese mice were host to a different mixture of gut bugs. Specifically, they found that a type of bacteria known as gram-positive bacteria (which have a single, thick cell wall) were far more prevalent in the fatter mice.

When the team treated the obese mice with an antibiotic (vancomycin) that targets gram-positive bacteria, the result was reduced levels of DCA and a reduced incidence of cancer. Further, when they directly targeted the DCA — by slowing bile acid breakdown or stimulating more bile acid secretion into the gut — they again found a reduced incidence of cancer (and giving them increased doses of DCA brought the cancer risk back up).

“I was very surprised by the process,” Hara says. “We never expected that changes in the gut microbiota could cause the higher risk of cancer.” [source]

The gut microbiota has been the focus of intense research just in the past two years and researchers have noted many links between the composition and activity of our microbiomes and various diseases (such as inflammatory bowel disease, certain allergies, and heart disease).

These recent findings by Hara et al lend additional support to the once controversial ‘germ theory” of cancer causation: that bacteria can be primary contributors to the development of cancer (note: the helicobacter pylori bacterium was  shown to cause stomach cancer nearly a decade ago). These results may help doctors better predict — and even prevent — the disease.

However, more research is needed to demonstrate that the same mechanisms are at work in humans, who possess different cellular “micro-environments” than mice.

Results of the experiments were reported on-line June 26, 2013, in the journal in Nature.

Some source material for this post cam from the Science NOW article:‘Gut Bugs Could Explain Obesity-Cancer Link’ by Gisela Telis



Michael Ricciardi (362 Posts)

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased).
Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary ‘The Jones River – A Natural History’, 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.).
Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; ‘A Time of Water Bountiful’ and ‘My Name is HAM’ (an “imagined memoir” about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net).
Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

SUPERBUG turns humans into zombies OMFG

A new superbug is devouring patients in the US and Israel according to a report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The study claims that 350 people have died as a result of the drug-resistant bacteria (akin to MRSA which has been tearing up hospitals in the UK for years).


My biggest problem with the study is that it doesn’t indicate what length of time the observations were carried out over, so the figure of 350 deaths is a little misleading. At least it doesn’t mention zombies staggering about eating people’s faces in a bid to feel better about their own, rotting shortcomings. And thank god; who wants to see them shuffling about, moaning and oozing, knocking things over and generally ruining the neighbourhood like a bunch of smelly American Idol fans? Not me for sure.


Sorry to disappoint all the Romero and Resident Evil fans out there.


So what is this superbug anyway? Well, it’s technical name is Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE (thank GOD I don’t have to write that again)) and it is a form of micro-bacteria that is immune to drug treatments and most anti-bacterial agents making it incredibly dangerous to patients with prolonged or chronic illness, as well as those with invasive devices such as catheters.


Finding information in simple terms about CRE has proved incredibly difficult and the only literature available seems to be high level medical journals and theses. The CDC website has a section on CRE but nowhere does it actually say where the bug came from or how it suddenly became such a problem.


Hold on zombie fans, you could be in luck yet because here’s where we get to explore some ideas.


Conspiracy theorists (nuts) would probably like to imagine that the bug is man-made and is part of the huge population cull that secret world leaders have been threatening for centuries. Of course they haven’t done it yet because their ‘Evil Villain’ patter isn’t quite up to scratch or they haven’t got the world’s attention, despite some ‘news’ outlets claiming that the New World Order does all its business right out in the open.


I won’t hold my breath waiting for the great cull to happen as speculation is about as valid as a research article that doesn’t give a time scale.


So what else could it be?


According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Enterobacteriaceae is a commonly found family of bacteria which lives in soil and water. CRE describes strains that have become resistant to antibiotics (in much the same way that rats have become immune to certain poisons) and because they are found in hospitals they have become a major health concern.


[adsense]VDH state that it is treatable but patients in intensive care are probably at the greatest risk of death as a result of the bacteria finding its way into the body. Due to the small number of antibiotics that can effectively deal with CRE it is hard to stem its potency.


The bacteria can spread from patient to patient via skin contact, for instance on the hands of care workers or nurses; and hospitals take special care to ensure any instances of outbreaks are isolated as quickly as possible.


CRE has been attributed to pneumonia, bladder, bloodstream and kidney infections.


Ok so that puts the zombie-retro-virus theory out of the picture. Sorry conspiracy theorists; better luck next time.

Please share your thoughts about CRE, zombies or related matters by leaving a comment.

Read about zombies becoming a reality; Hepatitis C; Smallpox; and HIV/AIDS.

images: deskofbrian.com; wordpunk.co.uk

Mobile phones carry more bacteria than toilet handles

Your mobile phone has become a necessity but according to www.dailymail.co.uk an average handset carries germs that are 18 times more harmful than the germs on the handle of a flush in the men’s toilet.

Researchers analyzed a number of handsets and found that a quarter of them had ten times more TVC s bacteria than the acceptable amount.

Out of the handsets, one was found to have numerous bacteria that were enough to give its owner a serious stomach ache. The bacteria carried by the mobile phones are not harmful immediately but an increase in their levels can give rise to other harmful germs.

According to www.telegraph.co.uk, the research was carried out by Hygiene expert Jim Francis and he thinks that the phones need to be sterilized.

One handset had 170 times more Fecal coliforms than are found in human waste. Other bugs that were found on the cell phones included e coli, Staphylococcus aureus and ones that cause food poisoning.

Researcher Ceri Stanaway said: ‘Most phones didn’t have any immediately harmful bacteria that would make you sick straight away but they were grubbier than they could be. The bugs can end up on your hands, which is a breeding ground and be passed back to your phone. They can be transferred back and forth and eventually you could catch something nasty.”

Images: Wikimedia Commons

Natural remedies for bladder infection

Many of us have been there fore: a urinary tract or bladder infection is uncomfortable, and will see most us run straight to the pharmacy or the doctor. The result? We consume antibiotics, or other synthetic medication to rid ourselves of the bacteria.

Antibiotics are by no means the only method with which we can combat the infection. There are other, simple and natural methods with which we can rid ourselves of the symptoms and the infection. The best part about opting for natural remedies is that we don’t have the annoying side effects from antibiotics – yeast infections, in women, for example, are relatively common.

Sick of taking medication? Then try these very simple and natural home remedies.

Drinking – consume as much water as you possibly can when you have the infection. This way you can try to flush your system.

Cranberry juice has been found to contain a component that prevents the bacteria in the bladder from attaching to the bladder walls, hence allowing the body to essentially wash out the bacteria. While earlier belief has stated cranberry juice to be counterproductive because of its high levels of us, many natural remedy experts swear by it. So drink as much as you can of it! BUT: please consume unsweetened cranberry juice. Cranberry extract tablets may also be consumed – some research has found these to be the most effective. Read more about cranberry juice consumption during infection at altmedicine.about.com.

Vitamin C – consume more of this while you have the bladder/urinary tract infection as it increases the acidity of the urine in your bladder. According to herbs2000.com, this creates an unfavorable environment for the bacteria.

Irritant foods – avoid anything that is difficult for the body to digest or that will irritate the infection, www.home-remedies-for-you.com writes. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food and carbonated drinks. You should also refrain from smoking. Make sure you rest.

Keep warm – apply heat to the lower abdomen and wear comfortable cotton underwear to keep the genital area warm – this is not only good for you, but will also slightly relieve symptoms of pain. Also, it is very important to keep your feet warm.

Homeopathy – there are several homeopathic remedies available. Some of the more popular remedies include echinacea, cantharis and sarsa parilla.  Click here to find out more about them.

Please remember that these are suggestions for a regular bladder/urinary tract infection with mild symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, do not improve, or you have chronic infections, it is important that you immediately seek medical advice. Untreated infections in the urinary system can lead to infections of the kidney, which can have severe consequences. Please see a doctor if you have any doubts or are unsure.

Read about interstitial cystitis, a severe bladder infection.

Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cranberries.jpg, Author: Mariluna http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bladder_(PSF).jpg