A Common Virus Can Make You Fat

In 1978 a six-year-old German girl developed a diarrheal illness. Researchers isolated a newly discovered virus from her stool, which they labeled Adenovirus 36. What happened to that particular girl is unknown, but subsequent research has shown that large numbers of people have been infected with this particular virus.

Adenovirus 36 seems unique among the human viruses isolated so far because it seems to be a cause of obesity. A recent study of studies (meta-analysis) showed that having antibodies to Adenovirus 36 seems to be associated with a clinically significant increase in the rates of obesity. Also, this effect is much more pronounced in children.

Studies have shown that this virus does the same thing in chickens, mice and rhesus monkeys. The virus seems to work by causing fat cells to divide faster and also to take up more sugar and fat. Interestingly enough, some studies have actually found improvements in blood sugar control and insulin resistance.

What is surprising is how common this virus seems to be. In almost all studies between ten and 30 percent of people tested show current or past infection with the virus. The virus can infect other animals but the primary route of transmission does seem to be from human to human through direct contact.

The bad news is that if you get this virus, you are more likely to become overweight or obese due to the proliferation of fat cells in your body. The good news is that the virus does seem to make you less likely to suffer some of the negative consequences of that weight gain by making you less likely to be diabetic and increasing your insulin sensitivity.

Researchers are currently working on a vaccine for the virus, which might be helpful in reducing childhood obesity, and down the line adult obesity. However, right now we don’t have such a vaccine.

Lifestyle changes still work for patients infected with Adenovirus 36, though. A study done in Czechoslovakia showed that overweight and obese teenagers who were infected with the virus got better results losing belly fat during a month-long stay at a weight loss center than did those who were not infected.

So far there is no recommendation to screen obese children or adults for this virus and the evidence available now shows that the majority of obese and overweight patients do not have Adenovirus 36.

So whether you have the virus or not, a diet with low calorie density, regular exercise and regular consumption of large amounts of fruits and vegetables can help you live a longer, healthier life.

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