Could obesity be caused by a virus?

Filed under: Nutrition: Health

Believe it or not, researchers say that it is possible that a common virus may be responsible for at least some cases of obesity. Scientists at Pennington Biomedical Research Center took stem cells, which can regenerate and turn into different types of cells, and exposed them to adenovirus-36, a virus of the cold and pinkeye family. What the stem cells turned in to were fat cells.

While this surprises me, it didn't really surprise the researchers. They already knew that a high percentage of fat people had a history of being infected with the virus. They had also experimented with animals, exposing them to the virus and seeing them fatten up. But exposing humans to the virus would be unethical, so instead they took fat tissue from people who had liposuction, removed the adult stem cells from the tissue, and exposed them to the virus.

More than half of the stem cells turned into fat cells. A small percentage of the non-exposed stem cells also turned into fat cells.

What does this mean? If the research can be confirmed, a vaccine could possibly be developed to prevent the virus from making people fat. Of course, it would be of no help to those who are already obese.

However, Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition, says, "The cause for obesity in everyone is the same." Basically, you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. But as far as the triggers that cause a person to overeat, he admits that a virus could play a small role, albeit far outweighed by genetics and even childhood eating habits.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.