Can Bacteria Cause Obesity and Diabetes?

We have all heard that we are what we eat. New research hints that we become what (or how) we digest. Scientists have identified particular bacteria that seem to trigger obesity and diabetes.

Researchers in Brazil have studied the medical foundations for diabetes and obesity (generally called metabolic disease) in mice. The scientists use mice because it turns out that it is possible to breed genetically modified mice that are resistant to diabetes. By "knocking out" a particular gene sequence in the mouse chromosome, mice were born with a biological protection from developing diabetes. This genetic change meant that mice that would have otherwise developed diabetes because of their diet and activity level would remain healthy.

To the surprise of the scientists however, these genetically protected mice developed diabetes when their digestive bacteria included one particular strain. By treating these mice with powerful antibiotics, which killed all of the digestive bacteria, the mice returned to health. To further validate their theory, the scientists then transplanted the suspect bacteria from diabetic mice to healthy mice. The recipient mice promptly developed diabetes. It seemed clear to the researchers that these microbes played some role in the development of metabolic disease or diabetes.

Now a lot of things work when experimenting with mice that don't work when applied to humans. Nobody suggests using this genetic knock out technique on people or trying to nuke our stomach bacteria to eliminate obesity and diabetes. On the other hand, this is pretty compelling evidence that our stomach bacteria do play an important role in our health and the onset of metabolic disease.

Not too long ago, researchers developed an antibiotic treatment for ulcers. This cured a disease that previously could only be treated with diet and antacids. The improvement in quality of life for people suffering from ulcers was incredible. More research may lead to a similar type of antibiotic treatment for metabolic diseases of obesity and diabetes.

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