Fat shaming is prevalent in the U.S. Making people (especially women) feel embarrassed, guilty, lazy, or just bad about their weight is practically a national pastime. One particularly inane example: shaming pregnant women for gaining weight. Um, aren’t they supposed to do just that? Another example: A blog called Skinny Gossip spewed venom at Kate Upton for being fat. Kate Upton? Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition cover model Kate Upton? If she is fat, the vast majority of women are shaped like walruses.
Criticizing fat shaming is also trending. People defending the overweight argue that many factors beyond an individual’s control may cause weight gain, including genetics, inaccessibility of healthful foods and medications with side effects. (Plus, some overweight people are just not caught up in our collective mania to be thin.)
Now we can add one more factor to the list of things that may make people fat: bugs in the gut.
You may want to take a moment here to get over the willies. Yes, there are microbes living in your gut and every other part of you — in fact [GROSS ALERT], the microbial cells in our bodies outnumber our human cells. Blame the New York Times for that tidbit.
Some of these microbes are very beneficial, including the ones that help us digest food and keep our teeth healthy. Others are less welcome, like those that cause dandruff. Then there are the truly evil ones that may increase fat.
The dark force that seems to cause weight gain is called Methanobrevibacter smithii (M. smithii). The more M. smithii bugs you have, the more you are likely to weigh. They do their dirty work by snatching away the nutrients in the food a person eats, leaving him/her feeling unsatisfied and likely to eat more.
I see two good nuggets in this discovery by Dr. Lee Kaplan of Massachusetts General Hospital and his research team. One: a simple breathalyzer test can detect excess M. smithii. Two: we can add one more point to the list of reasons fat shaming is stupid and useless.
So about that breathalyzer: the more methane and hydrogen in a person’s breath, the more likely they are hosting M. smithii, have higher body mass indexes and more body fat, and weigh more. Also, the more likely they are to burp and fart. Such a charming microbe.
Researchers are studying ways to kill off M. smithii without hurting all the good, pro-teeth microbes or resorting to anything as drastic as gastric bypass surgery. If they succeed, maybe one day losing weight will be as easy as popping some antibiotics.
That would be welcome news to fat people particularly hurt by fat-shaming, but for those happy with their weight it could pose a dilemma: change their bodies to avoid fat-shaming, or stay as they are and keep on truckin’. Either way, it looks like it will be a long time before anyone has to make this choice.