Doctors say Americans are experiencing an "obesity epidemic" because so many more people are overweight today than they were even 20 years ago. Now research shows the epidemic may be caused by a (curable) virus.
Or at least, the cure for obesity may not be having a healthy diet and getting exercise. It may be an anti-viral. Over at Brain Blogger, Jennifer Gibson writes about new research that shows 30 percent of obese people have also been infected with the same virus.
There are approximately 50 members of the adenovirus family, and they cause up to 5% of respiratory tract infections each year, ranging from the common cold to severe pneumonia. Some strains can also cause eye infections. Ad-36 has not been linked to any specific disease to date.
Early research found that 30% of obese people were infected with Ad-36, while only 11% of non-obese people were infected. New research finds that Ad-36 has a direct effect on human fat stem cells. The virus infects the fatty tissue and increases replication, differentiation, and accumulation of fat cells. Ultimately, this leads to larger fat cells, and more of them. The virus also increases lipid sensitivity and decreases leptin secretion of the new fat cells. However, the weight gain was not permanent in every case, lasting only long enough for the infected person to build up resistance to the virus.
That means your weight gain could be caused by exposure to somebody else who recently gained weight - due to contracting Ad-36. While a great deal more research needs to be done, several labs are tackling the question right now. What I'm curious about is whether the increase in fat cells is permanent or not. If it is permanent, it could mean people infected with Ad-36 will need to watch their weight more carefully than most people for their whole lives, because extra fat cells means might put them at greater risk for weight gain.
Check out the rest of Gibson's fascinating article here.