MAY 29, 2018 6:05 PM PDT

Environmental Factors Drive Belly Fat Buildup

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Our gut plays host to microorganisms that can be beneficial to us, aiding in digestion; but some of those microbes in the gut microbiome can have a bad influence on our health. Since belly fat is known to be linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders, and other health problems, researchers wanted to investigate how the gut microbiome might be connected to abdominal, also known as visceral, fat. Reporting in Nature Genetics, they identified biomarkers that can indicate a predisposition to building up visceral fat; the study could be used to develop personalized treatments. 

The scientists, at King’s College London, used stool samples to assess the gut microbes carried by 500 pairs of twins. Twins offer a unique opportunity to gain insight into how much influence genes have on a health condition. Since twins have the same genome, genetic disorders are far more likely to occur in both twins while the incidence of things caused by the environment will vary more from one twin to another. 

The investigators found that hereditary factors were responsible for only 17.9 percent of processes in the gut; environmental influences, primarily diet, impacted 67.7 percent of the activity that was occurring in the gut. They concluded that food would be a good way to make major changes in both gut function and fat distribution in individuals.

“This study has really accelerated our understanding of the interplay between what we eat, the way it is processed in the gut and the development of fat in the body, but also immunity and inflammation. By analyzing the fecal metabolome, we have been able to get a snapshot of both the health of the body and the complex processes taking place in the gut,” explained the leader of the work, Dr. Cristina Menni of King's College London.

This work also generated a gut metabolome bank, a database they built of metabolic byproducts that other scientists can utilize. It may help determine ideal conditions in the microbiome, which could impact fat distribution in obese people. The database also connects chemical metabolites to specific microbes. 

“This exciting work in our twins shows the importance to our health and weight of the thousands of chemicals that gut microbes produce in response to food,” said Professor Tim Spector, Head of the King's College London's Twin Research Group. “Knowing that they are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news, and opens up many ways to use food as medicine. In the future, these chemicals could even be used in smart toilets or as smart toilet paper.”

“This new knowledge means we can alter the gut environment and confront the challenge of obesity from a new angle that is related to modifiable factors such as diet and the microbes in the gut. This is exciting, because unlike our genes and our innate risk to develop fat around the belly, the gut microbes can be modified with probiotics, with drugs or with high fiber diets,” added first author Dr. Jonas Zierer. 

Clostridium septicum bacteria. / Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via King’s College London, Harvard Medical School, Mayo ClinicNature Genetics

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 18, 2020
Microbiology
The Science of Pesto
AUG 18, 2020
The Science of Pesto
  The word pesto comes from the Genovese word pestâ (pestare in Italian) which means “to pound” o ...
SEP 10, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Could There Be Life on Venus?
SEP 10, 2020
Could There Be Life on Venus?
Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, reaching 465 degrees Celcius- a temperature hot enough to melt lead. Wh ...
OCT 12, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
The Malaria Parasite Can Change Host Cell Genetics
OCT 12, 2020
The Malaria Parasite Can Change Host Cell Genetics
Mosquitoes can transmit the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite to humans. Malaria was estimated to have caused the deat ...
OCT 15, 2020
Microbiology
WHO Data Suggests Remdesivir Has No Effect on COVID-19 Infections
OCT 15, 2020
WHO Data Suggests Remdesivir Has No Effect on COVID-19 Infections
While the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, an International consortium including researchers has come to the conclu ...
NOV 09, 2020
Microbiology
Fighting COVID-19 with Help From Llamas
NOV 09, 2020
Fighting COVID-19 with Help From Llamas
Camelids, which include llamas, alpacas and camels have immune systems that generate two kinds of antibodies when confro ...
NOV 23, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Vibrations in Coronavirus Proteins Help Them Infect Cells
NOV 23, 2020
Vibrations in Coronavirus Proteins Help Them Infect Cells
If a key isn't cut quite right, it might need a special jiggle to get it into a lock in the right way. Scientists have n ...
Loading Comments...