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Doctors State That Obesity Can ‘Smell’

Update Date: Mar 26, 2013 12:55 PM EDT

Despite obesity being quite an obvious health complication, doctors state that not only can obesity be physically noticeable, it can also be detectable through the human breath. According to medical professionals from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, there are certain living organisms in the stomach that can help predict someone's risk of developing obesity. These microorganisms emit an odor that can help doctors prescreen patients for obesity based on a simple breath test.

The study, headed by lead author, Ruchi Mathur, MD observed the breath content of different patients. They recruited 792 patients and performed breath tests. Based from the results, the researchers observed four patterns that helped separate the patients. These four groups included normal breath content, high levels of methane, high concentrations of hydrogen, and high levels of both gases. The researchers found a relationship between people who had high levels of both gases, and their body mass indexes and body fat compositions. The researchers stated that these people tended to have higher levels of fat, which indicated that the presence of these two gases could be markers for obesity.

The researchers explained in their study that the high levels of methane could be attributed to the presence of the microorganism known as Methanobrevibacter smithii.

"Usually, the microorganisms living in the digestive tract benefit us by helping convert food into energy. However, when this particular organism - M. smithii - becomes overabundant, it may alter this balance in a way that causes someone to be more likely to gain weight," Mathur said. "Essentially, it could allow a person to harvest more calories from their food."

This finding is still based on very little research and Mathur is currently looking into more evidence regarding the link between this microorganism and its role in obesity and even prediabetes. If the link really does exist, doctors can better screen patients for obesity and help them control and lower their risks in developing this health complication. This ongoing study is being funded by the American Diabetes Association.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

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