You Aren't Fat, You Are Just Sick!

My brother and I had an interesting conversation a couple months back on the recent study that a low fat diet doesn’t appear to offer any health benefits. Wow! Talk about turning nutritional theory on its head, right? Our conclusion was an admiration of the human body: it does an amazing job of processing whatever you put in it, converting what it gets into what it needs. But maybe that isn’t the whole story…

Today, the NY Times published an article (may require registration) on an interesting theory that the microbes in our body determine how well we digest food and consequently affect our level of obesity. If your body is more efficient at processing food, wouldn’t you get more calories from the same amount of food? Conversely, wouldn’t you have to eat even less to lose weight?

It turns out that 90% of the cells in your body are not human, but microbes like bacteria and viruses. They outnumber you almost 10-to-1 !! And you thought your body was your own. Some viruses, such as adenoviruses, might just make you fatter. In testing, the Ad-5 virus causes obesity in mice and Ad-3 caused obesity in chickens. In humans, obese people are 200% more likely to have been infected by the Ad-36 virus at some point in their lives. And you would never know that you were infected because the virus is otherwise mostly non-symptomatic. While establishing cause and effect let alone the ability to manipulate your ecosystem of microbes are both far away, the consequences of this finding are staggering.

First, like a lambic beer, a lot of you is the product of your surroundings. You are born sheltered from the microbe world, your digestive system protected in the womb. Then you are invaded as you start down the birth canal, and the product is the culmination of you and your surroundings. Sometimes this is a good thing. Researchers believe that breast feeding leads to healthier babies because a sick baby infects the mother, the mother builds antibodies to the disease, and then the mother transfers those antibodies back in breast milk. Breast fed babies have lower incidence of allergies, sickness, and higher IQ. We are all much more intertwined in the world around us then we think.

But perhaps the scariest thought is that being fat, or skinny for that matter, may be contagious. Think about that. Who are you around all day? Does obesity follow disease infection patterns? Is Wisconsin not fat, just sick?

And while microbial function in digestion is well known and understood (E.Coli breaking down plant cells, etc.), microbes are all over your body, in every crevice, in every drop of blood. Could they make you smarter, dumber, or more irritable? Being sick certainly affects your personality. What if every day you were “sick” in a million little ways with differing effects? Sounds like that just might be the case.

As a side note, ladies if you want to become tall, slim, and athletic with great legs, feel free to drop me a line. Maybe I am contagious … ;)