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Are gut bacteria–which powers immune health–transferable? And can that lead to “catching” obesity?

Posted Feb 03 2012 3:29pm

As if the human immune system and the many health conditions it impacts aren’t complex enough. Try wrapping your brain around this. Some new Yale research paints a wild picture of how the immune system in the gut, controlled by a mix of good and bad bacteria or “microflora,” may actually be transferred from one person to another and may transmit obesity between people. Yeeesh!

The research, a mouse study , showed that when two mice–one healthy, one obese with liver disease–were put in the same cage, the healthy mouse became obese. Many factors, including mice’s tendency to eat other mice’s feces, could enter into the equation. But, the bad bacterial strains from the fat mouse ended up in the healthy mouse’s gut. This change in gut microbe populations–more bad bacteria, less good–manifests itself in more disease susceptibility and weight gain (bad bacteria dominating the digestive track can inhibit nutrient absorption while also signaling for imbalanced immune response, triggering inflammation).

None of this, of course, is even close to being conclusive. But it does kind of relate to other research showing that a pregnant mother’s bacterial and pathogen exposure and the immune composition shaped by that exposure can be transferred to the fetus.

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