Contributed by Guest Blogger: S. Bekele ’14
Obesity is an extremely serious problem, especially in the United States. Excessive weight gain can lead to many health problems, such as diabetes, heart failure, and cancer. Most people think that this is due to overeating and living a sedentary life, but new research suggests that a virus, specifically adenovirus-36, could be one of the causes of obesity. Perhaps obesity is not an overweight person’s fault, it could be simply due to an infection by a virus.
In order to find an association between adenovirus-36 and obesity, researchers in a recent study took blood samples of obese and non-obese subjects. They examined the blood serum to see if it contained antibodies for the adenovirus-36. Their BMI, cholesterol, triglyceride levels and percent body fat were also noted. After all the obese subjects’ data were gathered together, it was found that 30% had adenovirus-36 antibodies, while among the non-obese subjects, 11% had these antibodies. Also what was interesting to note was that obese and non-obese subjects with Ad-36 had lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which were higher for those without the antibodies. Other types of adenovirus antibodies were viewed such as Ad-2, Ad-31 and Ad-37. There were no differences in BMI among obese and non-obese subjects; it appears that Ad-36 is the only strain of adenovirus that is associated with obesity.
From the data, it was shown that obese patients were three times higher to have Ad-36 antibodies. The researchers explained this by suggesting that those that are obese are more likely to be infected with adenovirus-36, since they may have have impaired immune function. Ad-36’s role in obesity is unknown, but researchers came up with a few ideas. For example, Ad-36 may affect fat cells which would in turn lead to an increase in the number and size of those fat cells, thus causing obesity.
The association found between this virus and obesity sparks many interesting questions. Is it truly possible that we can blame a virus (at least partially) for obesity? If we were all vaccinated for adenovirus-36, would there be a great reduction in the number of obese people, especially in the United States? If we begin to understand the effects of this virus, perhaps we can examine how big a role it plays in obesity.