Monday, April 26, 2010

Obesity , Inflammation and the Human Gut

Obesity is a condition that has reached epidemic proportions not only in the United States but a good portion of the developed world. A number of factors contribute to this condition; predominant among these are high daily caloric intake accompanied by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for many. A more alarming trend is the extent to which this is being seen in children.

One of the more serious side effects that are directly related to obesity are Type II Diabetes – a condition that results in the inability of cells in the body, especially those of the muscle and the liver, to properly absorb glucose – a major component of cellular metabolism. As a result, the level of glucose in the blood increases significantly. This condition has serious implications for the health of the diabetic including heart disease, blindness, an increased likelihood of amputation and other consequences.

Scientists have spent considerable effort trying to understand the underlying processes that can more thoroughly explain the condition of obesity. The term that is used to describe the complex interaction that lies at the heart of obesity is referred to as the Metabolic Syndrome. Low-grade inflammation has been implicated in this syndrome, and the gut may play an important role. It has been established that obesity is associated with increased immune system activity.

The human gut harbors a large spectrum of bacteria that are beneficial. If there is an impairment of the body’s first line of defense, the innate part of the immune system, this might impact the bacterial population in the gut and trigger an inflammatory response. As a result of the studies done by Dr. Vijay-Kumar and his colleagues from the Department of Biology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, this hypothesis has been shown to have validity in the mouse, an animal model often used in immunological research. In his studies, the obesity of mice with this dysfunction was exacerbated when fed a high caloric diet.

This kind of study demonstrates that obesity is a complex problem and, therefore, needs to be addressed from a variety of different perspectives.

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