Obesity now affects 34% of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And obesity and overweight together affects 67%. Obesity raises the risk of diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure and heart disease. Therefore, new ways of understanding and treating obesity are urgently required.
Researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center now reveal that obese patients whose breath tests positive for methane are fatter than obese patients who test negative. The source of the methane is certain bacteria in the gut. So this suggests that the gut flora is different in more obese individuals. ‘Obesity is a major health issue and is reaching pandemic levels,’ says Ruchi Mathur MD, who is one of the study’s investigators. ‘It is our hope that by better understanding all the factors that contribute to obesity, we can develop more effective ways of fighting it.’
In the study, 58 patients aged between 18 and 65 with body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 60 were given a breath test to determine whether or not methane was present. Around 20% of those tested came out positive for methane.
These individuals had a BMI up to seven points higher than those testing negative. Previous research at Cedars-Sinai showed that methane from methane-producing bacteria can slow down the gut. This may have the effect of making the gut absorb more calories, contributing to obesity. It may be that medications aimed at rebalancing the gut flora so that methane no longer appears on the breath could be used to treat obesity. The findings add to a growing trend showing that the gut flora plays an important part in maintaining health – and is not involved only in digestive health.
This work was a joint project of the Center for Weight Loss and the GI Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai . The Center for Weight Loss offers a multi-disciplinary approach to treating obesity through addressing medical, behavioral, nutritional and surgical issues. The GI Motility Program is focused upon prevention, diagnosis and treatment of functional digestive tract problems. It offers advanced diagnostics and treatments and is known the world over for its research.
Mathur et al Digestive Diseases Week May 5 2010
By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD