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Study gives new hope to consumers looking to get rid of belly fat

Researchers say altering conditions in the gut may change how fat is distributed in the body

Photo (c) FredFroese - Getty Images
Losing excess fat around the waistline may seem like an unconquerable goal for many consumers who are trying to lose weight, but a new study may eventually lead to personalized diet plans and treatments to do just that.

Researchers from King’s College London have conducted a massive study investigating how the gut processes and distributes fat throughout the body. They say their work has provided valuable new insights that could potentially curb obesity rates.

“This study has really accelerated our understanding of the interplay between what we eat, the way it is processed in the gut, and the development of fat in the body, but also immunity and inflammation,” said Dr. Cristina Menni, the study’s lead investigator. “We have been able to get a snapshot of both the health of the body and the complex processes taking place in the gut.”

Determining where the fat goes

The researchers came to their findings after analyzing the chemicals produced by microbes in the guts of 500 pairs of twins. Their intent was to discover how the gut distributes fat and figure out just how much of that process was determined by genetics.

They found that less than a fifth (17.9 percent) of the gut’s processes could be attributed to hereditary factors, while over two-thirds (67.7 percent) was influenced by a person’s diet and other environmental factors. Professor Tim Spector says the fact that fat is distributed based on external factors is a good sign.

“Knowing that they are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news and opens up many ways to use food as a medicine,” he said.

Challenging obesity

In addition to helping other experts better understand bacteria in the gut, the researchers believe their findings may eventually provide consumers with better methods for combating obesity.

“This new knowledge means we can alter the gut environment and confront the challenge of obesity from a new angle that is related to modifiable factors such as diet and the microbes of the gut,” said first author Dr. Jonas Zierer. “This is exciting because unlike our genes and our innate risk to develop fat around the belly, the gut microbes can be modified with probiotics, with drugs, or with high fiber diets.”

The team’s full study has been published in the journal Nature Genetics.