Obesity is a major health concern in many parts of the world. Scientists think that a potential treatment could lie in your gut. They’ve developed genetically engineered gut bacteria that could help prevent obesity and related diseases.
What is obesity, and why is it dangerous?
Obesity is a condition where a person weighs significantly more than they should, in relation to their height. It can lead to serious health problems.
For example, obesity can cause atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Excess fat in the body starts to accumulate in the arteries and hardens them. This blocks the blood supply to major tissues and organs.
Obesity can also lead to many other diseases like heart disease, stroke, and fatty liver disease. That’s a condition where fat builds up in the liver and stops it from working properly.
Did you know? Body Mass Index (BMI), a way to evaluate body weight, is the ratio of a person’s weight to the square of their height. Normal BMI is 18.5-24.9. The BMI of obese people is usually over 30.
Recent research on gut bacteria
Scientists know that some microorganisms that live in your gut can affect obesity. Researchers at Vanderbilt University were curious to know if changes to these gut microorganisms could help treat or even prevent diseases linked to obesity.
They engineered gut bacteria to produce a type of lipid that is usually produced in the small intestine. It helps suppress appetite and reduce inflammation. People who are obese have less of this lipid than people who aren’t.
In one study, the Vanderbilt researchers studied weight gain in mice. They gave some of the mice water with the engineered bacteria in it. Other mice received either regular water with no bacteria, or water with control (untreated) bacteria. The results? The mice getting the engineered bacteria gained less weight than the others, even though they were eating a high-fat diet.
The researchers repeated this experiment with mice prone to atherosclerosis and fatty liver disease. The mice getting the engineered bacteria had less fat buildup in the liver and somewhat less plaque buildup in the arteries than the mice in the control group.
Did you know? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity rates have doubled since 1980!
What does the future hold?
This fascinating research could lead to treatments for preventing obesity and the diseases it can cause. A lot more work needs to be done before these techniques are tested on humans. But some scientists hope that genetically engineered bacteria will be used to treat obesity in the future.