HealthDay News — Certain byproducts of digestion may be linked to the risk of excess body fat, according to study findings published in Science Translational Medicine.

In order to characterize the metabolic signatures of adiposity in the United States and United Kingdom, Paul Elliott, MBBS, PhD, FMedSci, of Imperial College London, and colleagues, culled data from 2,324 American and British participants. The investigators analyzed urine samples, information regarding participants’ diets, exercise habits, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI).

Then, the researchers constructed an in-depth biochemical “map” that tracked the way food is processed and broken down by the body, enabling the investigators to take a snapshot of the end product of digestion: metabolites. More than two dozen of these metabolites were highly correlated with diet. Some were associated with having a high BMI, while others were associated with having a low BMI.

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About half the cited molecules had not previously been linked to obesity risk, researcher Jeremy Nicholson, PhD, told HealthDay. The scientists’ mapping effort suggests that about 5% to 6% of obesity risk can be explained by the activity of microbes in the gut.

“That means that the bugs in our gut, and the way they interact with the food we ingest, play a three to four times more important role in obesity risk than our genetic background,” explained Nicholson.


  1. Elliott P et al. Sci Transl Med. 2015; doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa5680