The Science of Weight: The Role of Bacteria

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This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about the science behind why we gain or lose weight. Whether or not you gain weight could have something to do with what lives in your digestive tract.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have learned that a molecule found in the intestinal wall is what determines how quickly food moves through the intestine. When the food moves more slowly, more nutrients — and more calories — are absorbed, leading to weight gain. This molecule is activated by waste materials from the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract and help break down food. Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, a UT Southwestern molecular geneticist, says this discovery could lead to obesity-fighting treatments to reduce the absorption of energy from food. Animals who lack this molecule are still healthy, so blocking its activity doesn’t appear to be harmful.  

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October 2009


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