Have You Been Bitten By The Obesity Bug?


If obesity is a complex disease, just like cancer or diabetes, as doctors call it, perhaps is time for us to stop scoffing at the simple lack of willpower for the extra poundage and ask, non-judgmentally – why are we so fat?  As scientists unfold more answers, the truth might shake up your muffin top.



A growing body of evidence is showing that our expanding waistlines could be in part be related to the infestation of obesity bugs in our tummies! Surprise, surprise, huh? In The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism March issue, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles reported on how certain gas-emitting microbes living in the human gut might influence our metabolism and increase the propensity for packing on too many pounds.

Testing the exhaled breath of 792 people in this first-of-its-kind large scale human study, scientists found that those with high levels of both hydrogen and methane in their breath are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and bigger proportion of body fat.

A bug called Methanobrevibacter smithii is responsible for most of the methane produced in the human gut. Researchers postulate that when the M. smithii population scavenges hydrogen released by other microbes in the neighbourhood and overgrows, that alters the energy balance and allows the body to absorb more calories from the same food consumed, which makes the person more likely to put on weight.

What you should feel slightly relieved hearing is the fact that you do not catch the obesity bug randomly like a flu virus floating around the office and start ballooning beyond the seams. These “fat bugs” naturally coexist with trillions of other tiny tenants in our all bodies; in varying compositions that’s almost unique to each individual like a thumbprint, and interact with each other and with ourselves in an intricate, fascinating manner that still needs to be studied.



Unraveling the secrets of this complex internal universe could spearhead exciting breakthroughs in our battle of the bulge. The next question would naturally be: Would a pill be available to shift the bug balance to restore a healthy, effortless slenderness?

To study the role of the change in gut microbes that occur in patients who had lost weight after gastric bypass operation, researchers at the Harvard University conducted an experiment in mice. Results confirmed that bariatric surgery causes different types of bacteria to colonise the gut,with an increase in types usually seen in lean folks and a drop in types associated with obesity. More interestingly, transferring samples of those bacteria into other mice caused them to rapidly lose weight without surgery!

Another study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that obese women who took a probiotic supplement (of the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus) lost twice as much weight and fat over six months (and remained better at keeping it off) as compared to those who took a placebo. It’s postulated that probiotics may have helped by controlling the women’s appetites, which seem to have waned as their microbiomes changed.


So while we are still far from a magic cure for the obesity epidemic, managing those tiny critters that call our intestines home could help you fight flab and win. Take these 3 simple steps to steer your bacterial balance (and weighing scales) to the skinnier side today: 

oneblackSay Yes To Yogurt: Fermented foods like yogurt deliver probiotics ((beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus or bifidobacteria) directly to the gut. A 2011 Harvard study found that yogurt was more strongly linked to weight loss than any other health food. In fact, people who ate an extra serving a day lost nearly a pound every four years.Try greek yogurt, kefir or products with at least one billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of “live and active cultures” on the label. Beware of health food fakes heavily infused with fruit flavours though: Some are loaded with sugar, which can feed the bad bugs and promote weight gain instead.

Other good probiotic sources include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, tempeh, soft cheeses (like Gouda), and even sourdough bread. Eat a variety of fermented foods that carry different assortments of bacteria to help promote a more healthy, varied metropolis in your belly.

twoblackFeed The Good Guys: While probiotic-foods contain live bacteria, prebiotic foods feed these good bacteria populating your digestive system. Chow down on fibre-rich foods such as asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal and legumes, as well as red wine, honey, maple syrup to give your tummy army a boost.

threeblackStarve The Bad Boys: What you don’t eat is every bit as crucial as what you do add to your diet. Cut back on weight offenders like refined carbs and the fat-loaded stuff. Sugary foods not only tend to lack fiber (which is food for the good bugs), but can also cause bad fat-soaking bacteria to thrive. A diet heavy in fat and protein (such as meat and cheese)also  feeds a type of bacteria, Bilophilia, that has been linked to inflammation – bad news for both your hearts and hips.


– By Claudia Lin