The same type of virus that causes colds in humans - an adenovirus - is now known
to make humans fat. It's a long story, and it all starts with a physician from India.
Chicken Virus & Human Obesity
Dr. Dhurandhar was a doctor in India specializing in obesity treatment. A friend told him about the SMAM-I virus that seemed to cause obesity in chickens. This was new information! Viruses may cause obesity in chickens.
Intrigued, Dr. Dhurandhar tested his obesity patients for the chicken virus. He found that 20% had been exposed to the SMAM-I virus. This indicated the virus was transmitted from chickens to humans. The patients had more fat but lower cholesterol and triglycerides than his other patients. Most experts didn't believe him.
Research Moves to the US
Dr. Dhurandhar closed his medical practice and moved his family to the US to do more research. For over 2 years he couldn't find an established scientist to study obesity viruses with. No one believed his results.
Dr. Atkinson was Interested
Just before going back to India he found Dr. Atkinson, an established US obesity researcher at a US medical school. Atkinson was interested in obesity virus research.
The US would not allow the SMAM-I virus to be imported from India, so they looked at human viruses approved for use in the US. The human Ad-36 virus, an adenovirus, was like the SMAM-I virus. It is the type that causes the common cold.
US Human Virus Associated with Obesity
Chickens infected with the human Ad-36 virus got fat and their cholesterol and triglycerides decrease. Other animals also got fat and their cholesterol and triglycerides decreased. In one animal given the virus, fat increased by 60%.
It's not ethical to infect humans with a virus in an experiment. The next best thing is to look at identical twins to see if one had been naturally infected. In a pair of twins if one had the virus and was fatter than the other, it's the same as doing the experiment. They found 28 pair or twins where one had the virus. The twin that had the virus was fatter.
How Can a Virus Make You Fat?
There are 3 ways viruses make people fat.
Increases the amount of sugar taken out of your blood and converted to fat.
Increases the activity of enzymes that create fat.
Converts stem cells found in fat tissue into more fat cells.
People that get infected have bigger fat cells with more fat in them. They also end up with more fat cells.
Dr. Atkinson and other obesity researches continue to look at testing and treatment of people that have the AD-36 virus. It's not all bad news. You can read how this new information is being used here.
Dr. Dhurandhar is now head of the Texas Tech University Nutritional Sciences Department. He continues to research the Ad-36 virus. You can learn more about his work here.
I first learned of the AD-36 virus in "The Secret Life of Fat" by Sylvia Tara, PhD that was published last year. Dr. Tara has a PhD in biochemistry form the University of California and an MBA from Wharton. She was motivated to research and write this book based on her own experiences. The book is about a lot more than obesity viruses. It's well written, easy to understand, and full of good information.
Christopher DiPasquale, PhD, PT, OCS, SCS, CHT is a physical therapist at Performance Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, with offices in Hebron and Colchester, Connecticut. He is board certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Sports Physical Therapy and a Certified Hand Therapist by the Hand Therapy Certification Committee. Visit pptsm.com for more information.