Research has suggested that obesity is the result of a specific genetic code that causes people to gain extra weight and develop obesity-related conditions. Other studies assert that overeating and failing to exercise can lead to the medical condition.
Now, a new report in the United Kingdom has revealed that it might not be as simple as that: our gut microbiome can affect how we put on weight and because these microbes can spread, it might be the reason that some "catch" obesity from other people.
How Gut Microbes Can Spread
In a study featured in the journal Nature, experts from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have found that a third of the spores produced by human gut bacteria can survive out in the open air.
This suggests that people we come in contact to could actually influence our own gut microbiome as the microorganisms spread through the air.
This does not mean that when your overweight companion sneezes on you, your weight is already going to increase. However, past studies have linked a person's weight and the make-up of the gut bacteria.
If the new study is accurate and gut microbes can actually exist outside the body, then our own internal system could be affected by family and friends.
Additionally, bacteria passed on from one person to another could cause an imbalance in the new host's gut microbe system. This imbalance could lead not only to obesity but to irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease as well, scientists say.
Such is the case of a bacteria known as Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhea and is known to spread through the air. Treatments for C. difficile involve transplants of excrement from healthy people in order to culture the gut.
Meanwhile, there is a caveat: researchers say their study does not suggest that gut microbes could "jump" from person-to-person, only that it does have the potential to.
Implications Of The Study
The findings of the study offer vital information that could help scientists understand the relationship and biology between disease and health.
Hilary Browne, one of the researchers of the study, says they developed a new process to isolate the gut bacteria and sequence their genomes.
"We can also store them for long periods of time making them available for further research," adds Browne.