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Travel Boosts Obesity, Diabetes Risk

Update Date: Oct 17, 2014 02:09 PM EDT

Traveling can make people obese, according to a new study.

Researchers found that jet lag, which disrupts the body's circadian clock, increases the risk of obesity and metabolic problems by disrupting the daily rhythms of gut microbes.

"These findings provide an explanation for a long-standing and mysterious observation, namely that people with chronically disturbed day-night cycles due to repetitive jet lag or shift work have a tendency to develop obesity and other metabolic complications," senior study author Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science said in a news release. "These surprising findings may enable us to devise preventive treatments for these people to lower their risk for these complications."

After analyzing fecal samples collected from mice and humans at different times of the day, researchers found rhythmic fluctuations in the abundance of microbes and their biological activities.

The study revealed that mice exposed to changing light-dark schedules and abnormal feeding habits experienced a disruption in the composition and rhythmic fluctuations in the gut microbes. The study also revealed that jet-lagged mice were significantly more likely to gain weight and develop metabolic problems linked to diabetes. This was also shown in people who had traveled from the United States to Israel.

"Our findings highlight a new therapeutic target that may be exploited in future studies to normalize the microbiota in those people whose lifestyle involves frequent alterations in sleep patterns, such as shift workers and very frequent fliers," Elinav concluded. "Targeting the harmful changes in the microbiota in these large human populations with probiotic or antimicrobial therapies may reduce or even prevent their risk of developing obesity and its complications."

The findings are published in the journal Cell.

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