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Can we smell obesity?

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Using the sense of smell as a diagnostic tool is nothing new. Medical practitioners have long been aware that a foul-smelling wound is infected and that the breath of a diabetic patient has a sweet smell. And electronic detectors can analyse the gases exhaled in a patient’s breath and use them as a screening tool for conditions such as sinusitis, pneumonia and lung cancer.

Recent research, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggests that breath analysis may also be used to identify patients susceptible to developing obesity. It had been noticed in previous studies that patients with increased methane in their exhaled breath show a body mass index some seven points higher than the normal group.

The recent research concentrated on the organism Methanobrevibacter smithii, which belongs to the Archaea domain of microbes. It is present in the gastrointestinal tract of 70 per cent of the population and occurs at elevated levels in 30 per cent of this group. It is this latter group that seems to be genetically inclined towards obesity.

M smithii produces methane by harvesting hydrogen atoms from surrounding organisms. This results in a feedback effect causing these organisms to increase their activity in order to replace the hydrogen lost. This activity is part of a symbiotic relationship with the host, and has the effect of increasing the calorific extraction from ingested food. The increased methane production is also thought to decrease gut motility, further increasing nutrient extraction.

More research is being carried out in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association, in which prediabetic patients who are obese and have increased methane breath levels are being given antibiotics to eradicate M smithii and having parameters analysed. It is hoped that successful eradication can reduce these patients’ risk of developing both obesity and diabetes.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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