T Nation

AD36- The Fat Virus

What do you think of this…

‘Catching’ the fat bug

Can obesity be caused by exposure to a virus?

By Rachel K. Sobel

Half of all Americans are considered overweight, and those extra rolls of flab aren’t simply the result of failed willpower. Within the past few years, researchers have linked ravenous cravings for double cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes with genes and hormones. Now, a discovery announced last week is throwing a bizarre new twist into the obesity equation: a virus. Yes, it seems that one might “catch” obesity, just as one might catch a cold.

As far-fetched as it sounds, scientists are making the proposition in the August issue of the International Journal of Obesity. Nikhil Dhurandhar and his team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison injected chickens and mice with a human virus (adenovirus 36) and watched them pack on the fat, up to 2.5 times the amount that uninfected animals gained, even given the same portions of food. “The idea that a human virus causes obesity in both chickens and mice obviously leads to the possibility that it could happen in people,” says Richard Atkinson, one of the co-authors of the study.

Obesity in the air? The weird discovery is not to be dismissed as science fiction, say obesity experts. “It’s a very intriguing idea, and it really looks like there’s pretty good data here,” says John Foreyt, director of the Nutrition Research Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine. “You have to wonder–if I can catch obesity by somebody sneezing on me in the elevator, that has all kinds of implications.” Still, the notion of contagious fatness is only speculative until definitive evidence with human research is produced.

Dhurandhar has already started comparing blood samples of obese and non-obese people in hopes of finding certain “fat virus” antibodies. His preliminary data show that about 30 percent of the obese tested have antibodies to Ad-36, and only 5 percent of the non-obese have such antibodies. In any case, heavy people need not fear quarantine if they are “carriers.” The virus might only be contagious when it first hits. “It’s the skinny people with a cold that we might have to watch out for,” says Atkinson.

Even if a fat germ is shown to trigger human weight gain, environmental factors will still be the driv-ing force behind portliness, says David Heber, professor of medicine and director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Couch-potato living and overeating, for instance, spurred more than a 25 percent rise in obesity during the past three decades. Moreover, scientists now believe that environment can also affect the activity of certain genes related to obesity. Nevertheless, the obesity bug might heighten both genetic and environmental effects–worsening the consequences of a high-fat diet and an underactive lifestyle.

If the link pans out, obesity wouldn’t be the first chronic disease directly tied to the workings of a microbe. The stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori, for instance, is now understood as a major cause of ulcers, once thought to be set off by stress. Viruses are also now implicated in cervical cancer and a type of lymphoma. There is even mounting evidence that heart disease may be caused by an infectious agent.

It’s too early to assume that an obesity virus affects humans, but some scientists are already imagining a trim future, one with children lining up for vaccinations against a fat bug.

Would it not make sense that these fat people do not have the antibodies because thier immune system and such is thrown out of whack due to increased stress that the fat places on the body…or at least something along those lines.

that sounds stupid, i dont believe it. i have two friends who has lived in the US. not much to go on but still. one until he was 5 and the other age 11-13, now 21 and 22. none are fat. actually Finland is the fattest country in the world, the US is second. atleast 5 years ago. sience illustrated or whatever its called. im naturall thin, ecto like my brothers and many other people in Sweden. i think fatness is mostly genetic and culturall. so please stop spreading the junk food culture to us, and untill this virus thing is delceared nonexisting, dont visit us. the two last sentences of this post might be ment for humor but im not sure.

That still means that 70% of the obese population has some 'splaining to do.

Actually guys, don’t knock this study yet. There are many viruses which are chronic and can alter a person’s phenotype. Remember, viruses don’t want to make people sick, they just want to reproduce - so not all viruses will be lethal. In fact, the least successful viruses are the lethal ones, because they quickly run out of hosts. The subtle viruses seem to work the best.

This COULD be the next big thing. Plus, if we could find out that 30% of obesity could be cured by a vaccination, that would rule as far as health care costs are concerned.

Just another excuse. Granted, fat people probably put on fat easier than skinny people, but that still doesn’t mean they can’t get healthy if they want it bad enough.


Funny how no one bothers to look for a lean virus…

And someone is actually spending time/money to do this research???
I wonder if you can catch it in a gym?

I remain skeptical but if they can prove it fine. I would really like there to be a vaccine though as fewer fatties would equal lower insurance costs for us all.

First of all, those who disregard this hypothesis, without having science backgrounds, should do themselves (and every body else) a favor and shut the hell up. Should you doubt it, do some serious searches on diabetesn and its possible viral origins. Similar pattern. Ditto for Chronic Fatigue (that could be onset by a viral infection when blood chemistry (pH) is too low because of overtraining, which gives an excellent breeding ground for viral invaders). As for the rest, everyting can be debated, because of the Bell Curve distribution of characteristics and skewed opinions. Like every possible body condition, you will find the usual mentality: some do, some don’t ‘catch’ it(regardless of what they think or do). Whatever the ‘trait’ (obesity, smoking, viral infections, disease, etc.) you will always have people who do nothing and never get it. Other fight it all their life and get shitty results. Most people are a mix between between averages. Bell curve stuff. So you will never be able to pinpoint an EXACT, explain-every-possible case theory. But be confident that the ‘Self-serving Bias’ (I am a winner! I am the Best! I am invulnerable! I am Invincible! Millions and millions think the same thing by the way…) will taint the results. At least, science is less Ego involved and based on facts. Facts can be debated. Egos, forget it.

Then where was this mysterious virus 50 years ago? Americans are getting fatter and fatter, but in the early 1900’s the percentages of obese people were MUCH lower. If it was caused by a virus wouldn’t you think that it would have been just as prevelant then???

What Michelle said. And also consider the fact that this “virus”, despite coming about in the age of jet travel, when for all practical purposes international boundaries disappear (read “The Coming Plague” if you want some of the science behind this), seems oddly limited to North America. Where there is an abundance of food and servings are at least twice what any normal person in any other nation would consider rational.


The lead researcher actually began his
viral/obesity studies in India: “Dhurandhar first uncovered evidence of an obesity virus in India. While working on his PhD thesis in Bombay, he was struck by the discovery of a chicken adenovirus that killed baby birds. Instead of wasting away – the usual course of a viral disease – the animals actually became very fat. Contrary to what one would expect in obese animals and humans, the chickens had low blood levels of cholesterol and fatty acids. He tested obese residents of Bombay for evidence of infection with the chicken virus and found that many of these people tested positive – even though chicken adenoviruses are not supposed to infect people. Those who tested positive for the chicken virus – but not other obese people – had low blood levels of cholesterol and fatty acids as well.” Here’s the URL:–http://webmd.lycos.com/content/ article/26/1728_59864?–And as far as where the virus was, where was HIV and Hep C 50 years ago?

If you really can catch obesity why is it that there are so many fat americans compared to europeans. Europe has just as much travelers as any other part of the world and one would think they would have it too. Though there may be a fat virus there does seem to be quite a few holes that need to be filled in.