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Lifestyle, dietary choices, and time dedicated to exercise are many of the contributing factors towards obesity. However, researchers have determined a new suspect that may play a role in the development of what is a called the “metabolic syndrome“. Individuals with metabolic syndrome suffer from three or more of the following conditions: obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and excess fat. According to the American Heart Association, 20-25% of adults have the syndrome.

Obesity is a growing epidemic in the US.

Research conducted by Penn State University demonstrated that gut bacteria may have an effect on how the liver processes fats, thereby causing metabolic syndrome. When people consume plant-derived fiber, they are unable to digest it. Instead, gut bacteria ferments the fiber and produces short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids will then move to the liver where they are changed to lipids and added to fat deposits. Over time, this can cause an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

Gut bacteria may influence how livers process fat.

The TLR5 receptor plays a key role in this scenario as it controls the proliferation of gut bacteria. Some people possess a genetic mutation that causes a lack of TLR5 receptors, which in turn allows uncontrolled growth of the bacteria. Researchers have determined that this results in an increased amount of fermentation, fatty acid production and lipid addition to fat deposits. With time, this increases the risk of metabolic syndrome.

As it turns out, diseases like obesity and diabetes are not completely dependent on lifestyle choices. Aside from the difference in gut bacteria between individuals, genetics can also play a role in obesity and diabetes. Due to differences in gut microbiota, different individuals may react differently to the presence of various microbes. People may have similar gut microbes, but how their bodies function relative to the microbes is dependent on genetics. Ultimately, the discovery that bacteria may contribute to health problems like obesity and diabetes, gives us the hope that perhaps one day, we can harness that information to utilize these bacteria to effectively treat metabolic syndrome.

Feature Image Source: Tony Webster

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