Is Fat Contagious?

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Within the past several years, several studies have come out that prove that the micro-flora of healthy-weight individuals differs greatly from those of their obese counterparts. While most of these studies are done on mice, they show great promise. One recent study even showed that obesity…wait for it…could be contagious because of bad gut bacteria.

That’s right, in the same way you catch a cold from your germy co-workers, you may also get his or her weight problem.

In a recent study, researchers tested 2 groups of mice, one healthy group and one group engineered to have an immune deficiency disorder. The immune-deficient mice developed fatty liver disease and gained significant weight when fed a Western-style diet (aka SAD or Standard American diet), as may have been expected. However, when these mice were placed in the same cage as healthy mice, the healthy mice started to have symptoms of liver disease and increased weight gain. I want you to read that again, because I know I had to.

According to the Huffington post, the researchers reported that microbes in the stomachs of the mice were to blame. The immune-compromised group had dysbiosis, meaning their gut bacteria was out of balance.

According to study researcher Richard Flavell, a professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine, “We normally live in symbiosis with the bacteria in our guts, but in the study, the number of “bad,” disease-associated bacteria increased 1,000-fold in mice with immune problems…we could make a mouse fatter just by putting it in the same cage as the other mouse.”

So what does this mean for those of us without furry little noses and paws? As of now, more research is needed to prove if this is the case in humans as well as mice, and it really opens the door to conversation about human health and the gut. We need to start thinking about the correlation between friends and family that are all overweight and why they share that common thread.

The good news is, or gross news however you choose to see it, is that mice eat each others poop which can lead to the transfer of bad bacteria. So as long as you don’t go digging in others toilets you should be OK. However, we can’t rule out the results completely when it comes to humans. We don’t know if processed foods are contributing to dysbiosis of the gut as well, although I suspect it does.

So what can you do? Make sure you are getting your probiotics and prebiotics! Prebiotics are much easier to get in foods like onions and artichokes. Probiotics are a bit more challenging, but organic, plain yogurt can help a little. I don’t believe it’s significant enough get an unhealthy gut back to optimal health, but it can’t hurt. Instead, focus on also adding high quality probiotic supplements at least every other day. Look for Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium strains, which are the most researched.

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