Intestinal Bacteria Linked to Health of Obese People: How Diverse are Yours?

First Posted: Aug 29, 2013 07:33 AM EDT

Scientists have always known that intestinal bacteria can play a huge role in our everyday health. Now, though, they've discovered a link between the richness of bacterial species in our gut and the susceptibility to medical complications related to obesity. The findings could reveal a little bit more about how to help patients suffering from these conditions and could allow researchers to better understand obesity itself.

Obesity is an epidemic that's spread across our globe. Men and women exercise less and have access to far more energy-dense food. In fact, researchers believe that obesity will increase from the 400 million in 2005 to more than 700 million in 2015. Needless to say, it's important to understand obesity in order to develop ways to help combat the health issues associated with it.

Since researchers knew that the bacterial population in our gut is linked to our health, they decided to examine it a bit more closely to learn more about obesity. The scientists looked at the intenstinal flora of 169 obese Danes and 123 non-obese Danes. This allowed them to get a better look at how the bacteria differed.

"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 few less bacterial species," said Jeroen Raes, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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."

So how did the bacterial flora impact people? It turns out that the people in the group with lower species richness were more susceptible to developing obesity-related conditions and chronic inflammation. In fact, the researchers found that the obese people in the group were more at risk of cardiovascular conditions than the obese people in the other group.

The findings reveal exactly how important intestinal bacteria are when it comes to the health of an individual. Not only is it weight gain and dietary habits that play a role in the development of medical complications in obese people, but it's also the bacteria they have. Currently, the researchers plan to follow up this study on a larger scale. They hope to eventually develop improved treatments and medicines for the future.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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