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A Virus Can Cause Weight Gain?

Actually this is one of those good news/bad news things. I was thumbing through the April 2008 issue of Oprah's magazine and a question from an anonymous reader, to columnist Dr. David L. Katz, caught my eye.

The reader asked if it's true that a virus can cause weight gain. The answer? Yes!

Wow. I know they are finding all sorts of links to genes that may cause hair to behave a certain way (grow, fall out, get thicker) but I had no idea that we could gain weight from catching a virus.

According to Katz, "there may be several such viruses" and yes, if you have a doctor who believes in this theory, you can be tested to see if you have antibodies. Which will show that you might have been infected with a virus that causes weight gain.

This information certainly offers the potential to change how current society regards people that are overweight. Years ago people with drug and alcohol issues were looked down on as being weak and unable to deal with their lives because of excessive drinking or drugging.

Times have changed and now both issues are known to be illnesses and are treated as such. A lot of the stigma has lessened regarding people who have been in rehab for drug/alcohol or other related issues that are known to be real illness.

Overweight people are viewed by many in today's society as weak or lacking in self discipline. If indeed a series of viruses are proven to cause uncontrollable weight gain, then being overweight is an illness, much like alcoholism. Right? Definitely worth serious consideration.

Unfortunately there is no magic pill that can fix the problem. At least not yet and probably not in the immediate future.

How did all this information come to light? According to Dr. Katz, researchers "noticed that chickens, monkeys and other animals started to put on a lot of pounds following an infection with certain types of viruses, notable adenoviruses".

When the researchers tested humans, they found that nearly a third of obese people have antibodies for a particular adenovirus strain, while only 11 percent of normal weight people do.

The reason there s little hope for magic pills to prevent or reverse the weight gain from the viruses is that the problem is not from an ongoing infection, but from prior infections.

The viruses attack and then are beaten back by the body's immune system. But not before, in theory, the virus has altered fat cells in a way that increase vulnerability to weight gain. Possibly by triggering fat cells to grow faster.

Some scientists would like to prevent future infections with a vaccine. Unfortunately it is believed we are many years away from being able to have a vaccine that would prevent a virus that is known to increase obesity.

The good news? Society should now take into consideration the fact that overweight can be linked to a virus and thus be considered an illness. The bad news? There are no magic pills to reverse the virus. Therefore, those extra pounds still need to be addressed by eating healthy, exercising and understanding that it is necessary to work a little harder to overcome any unexplained weight gain issues.

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