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Microbes In Hibernating Bear May Be The Solution To Obesity Among Humans

Update Date: Feb 07, 2016 06:02 PM EST

Feasting on calorie-rich foods to prepare for months-long hibernation and have all the packed fat burned away is a normal eat-and-sleep pattern for bears minus the risks of obesity that humans often have to deal with if they consume too much and exercise less.

Unearthing the secrets of how bears avoid the health consequences from rapid weight gain could be a potential holy grail for weight loss buffs and diet conscious people.

A recently published report by Swedish researchers at the University of Gothenburg links bears' changing metabolism in summer and winter has something to do with the roles their gut microbes play.

"The restructuring of the microbiota into a more avid energy harvester during summer, which potentially contributes to the increased adiposity gain without impairing glucose metabolism, is quite striking," explained lead author Fredrik Bäckhed, Ph.D. at The Wallenberg Laboratory for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research in the University of Gothenburg as quoted in a report by Genetic Engineering News.

According to US News and World report, the study involved a careful analysis of fecal matter from wild brown bears. Findings point to seasonal shifting in gut microbes. During summertime, the diverse gut microbe population tends to absorb more energy from the food the bears take in. But when winter sets in, gut microbes become less diverse and take in less amount of energy.

The scientists decided to transfer summer and winter gut microbes from the original host to lab mice. The results yielded some interesting findings about the previously under-appreciated roles that gut microbes play in bears' metabolic functions. The mice with summer gut microbes surely put on more weight than those with winter gut microbes. But the former showed no signs of glucose-tolerance impairment associated with obesity.

What are the implications of the study?

"It's interesting because it implies the [gut microbes] may actually be driving metabolism in way that could be harnessed," says Margaret Morris of the University of New South Wales as mentioned in an article by Cosmos Magazine.

But the senior author of the research quickly cautions the public over the hype that the study created.

"I don't think that this study will have direct implications for obesity, as the summer microbiota will make you fat and the winter insulin resistant. But perhaps we can find clues for treating malnutrition from the summer bacteria, and help patients with anorexic disorders - including cancer patients," Bäckhed said as stated in a BBC news story.

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