Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fat Plague: Is Obesity Contagious?

Obesity is the latest epidemic threatening the whole world today, spreading like wildfire. The disease now affects millions of people, mostly those living in cities, in both developed and underdeveloped countries. More than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity. (National Center for Health Statistics) 
 
 By Dr. Abe V. Rotor       

       According to a recent finding by a young Indian medical doctor, Michael Dhurandha, a virus (Code name Ad-36) infects humans and causes obesity. The virus attacks pre-fat cells stimulating them to grow into giant fat cells that accumulate excessively as ugly body fat. (National Geographic channel, January 2004)
     This finding challenges present knowledge about obesity, which has long been thought as a kind of physiologic imbalance predisposed by heredity and compounded by comfortable lifestyle. The popular idea that robust and fat people are models of health, affluence and progress is now seriously challenged.

      Dr Dhurandha stirred one of the most controversial issues in medical science, its implication encompassing practically all aspects of human life, from economic to cultural. It opened a Pandora box of global concern, casting  discrimination against people who show signs of obesity, to the point of suspecting them as carriers of the fat plague virus. The world waits from the finding the true explanation of the many complications of obesity that predispose the victim to various kinds of ailments and early death.

       With Dr Richard Atkinson of the University of Wisconsin, more proofs were presented that indeed obesity is caused by a virus.
Obesity in Chickens - Early Beginning of Research 

      The discovery started with chickens getting exceedingly fat and dying prematurely, whereas the lean chicken developed normally. On examination the obese chickens showed the presence of antibodies, which means that the chickens through their immune system, produced a substance to counteract the effects of a virus, which was later on tagged as SMAM 1, after the initials of another Indian doctor.  Histological examination of the diseased chickens showed enlargement of liver and kidneys, including the thymus gland, altogether accompanied a tremendously large accumulation of body fat.

The Case of the Identical Twin

     Among the findings of Dr. Dhurandha is a comparison of an identical twin.  An identical twin developed from a single egg and fertilized by a single sperm.  It is in the early cleavage stage that the fertilized egg splits into two, later to develop into two individuals. Thus the two carry exactly the same genes. 

      In this particular case, one member is of normal weight while the other is obese.  Yet both ate the same kind of food, had the same amount of exercise, or in short, led the same lifestyle.  But what predisposed one to become obese while the other remained normal?  On examination of blood samples, the obese partner was found positive with Ad-36, while the other had negative result. The finding does not only point at the causative agent, but raises the question, “Why didn’t both get the virus?”  

 
Findings Raised Vital Questions  

1.        Cross-species transmissibility – The virus, which was discovered to cause obesity and death of chickens in Bombay, similarly caused the same effect on chickens in the US laboratory. It also caused obesity in primates (monkeys) in the second stage of the experiment. Then the antibodies produced by the infected chicken and monkeys were compared with those taken from obese human volunteers. The result proved to be positive: the antibodies have common characteristics, which indicates that the causal organism could be the same pathogen, Ad-36 virus.
           
        If this is the case then the suspected fat plague - Ad-36 virus – like the viruses that cause AIDS, SARS and Ebola is transmissible across species – between humans and animals. Therefore, humans can pick up the fat plague virus from infected humans or animals. If this is so then Ad-36, like the other viruses mentioned has developed the capability of crossing the species barrier. As such these questions are inevitable. 

-         What factors cause certain viruses to turn from a passive to virulent state, and to cross the barrier between animals and man as what has happened in SARS, Ebola and HIV-AIDS? Is this being repeated in the case of Ad-36?

-         What predispose them to transfer from one host species to another? And why is it that a virus may be harmless to one host, but harmful to another?

-         If these viruses were part of the evolution of certain species through thousands or millions of years, what is their role in the survival of these species and in controlling their populations?

-         Are these viruses remnants or renegades of primordial microorganisms that became symbionts and ultimately part of the complex bodies of higher organisms?  Or are we seeing through a keyhole a glimpse of continuing co-evolution? 

2.        Lateral transmissibility – Could it be possible that the fat plague virus is transmitted between and among humans? Could one get it as easy as getting the cold or flu virus? Then we should be wary of the possibility of contacting the virus from an innocent sneeze in a loaded elevator. Is the fat plague virus transmissible through blood and body fluids like HIV and Hepatitis?  If this is so then it is extremely necessary to observe aseptic conditions in homes and hospitals, and invariably also, to restrict social and personal interactions. 

    A crucial question as to whether or not a non-obese individual can transmit the virus, the researchers answered yes, if he carries the virus.   In fact the non-obese can be a more efficient carrier and source of the disease because there are no visible warning signs for potential victims to avoid.

     To date we know very little on how a person can contact the fat plague virus.  Yet this is a growing discrimination against those who are apparently fat.  This is unfair and incriminating. There may come a time when obese people will be avoided virtually the same way people distanced themselves from lepers during the Middle Ages. We are indeed facing a social dilemma in dealing with this fast growing global problem, which poses to be the next and human pandemic disease.
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Predisposing conventional factors leading to obesity

· Genetics
· Overeating
· A diet high in simple carbohydrates
· Frequency of eating
· Physical inactivity
· Medications
· Psychological factors
· Diseases such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome, and Cushing's syndrome are also contributors to obesity.

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Role of DNA in Disease Transmission

     Like any virus, the fat plague virus seeks a suitable cell once it has entered the body.  It has a lipo-affinity characteristic as if it holds the key to unlock the door  pre-fat cells, which are stem cells destined upon the signal of Deoxyribose nucelic acid or DNA to develop and mature into adipose tissues. The virus, though incomplete of the parts typical of a living organism, possesses DNA that is no different than the DNA of all living things.

      DNA is a double helix structure like a ladder connected with rungs. It is universal in all living things.  When cells divide, this double helix splits and replicates itself exactly as the original. Thus a skin cell replacement assumes the exact characteristic of the lost one. The growing bud copies the structure of the mature leaf. It is also the same structure that carries traits from parents to offspring.  In short, DNA is the code of heredity. 

     Through DNA-to-DNA contact, the virus dictates what the host cell is going to do. It is its DNA that the virus uses as a tool in “manipulating” its host cell, generally getting what it wants. In the case of the flu virus for example, it dictates the host cell to reproduce millions of its kind. Fortunately our body immune system produces antibodies that soon destroy the virus and make us well again without apparent harm. 

          But not all viruses behave this way.  Not at all times are our bodies on the guard. In some cases, viral attack leaves a devastating effect like polio, permanently impairing organs and tissues.  Viruses may be as fatal as rabies and Ebola.  Their presence may linger and may permanently remain dormant in the host, long after the episode of the disease.  Such is the case of Hepatitis, which comes in a number of strains. A virus may be debilitating and deadly like HIV-AIDS. 


 Obesity is a burden to healthcare program 
    
 All viruses generally “milk” their hosts, so to speak, draining the body at the expense their virulence and tremendous number. In the case of the fat plague virus however, the effect to the host is the opposite.  The virus causes the accumulation of stored energy – fat, and therefore the longer the infection is, the more obese the victim becomes. This is the reason why the new theory was first shelved because all virus diseases are generally debilitating.  That is not the case with the fat plague.

      When do we say a fat person is an obese?  The other question is, “Why does one just get fat, while others become fat virtually without limit?”  These are some perplexing questions the researchers are presently working on.  Among other queries are the following:
  • Is an individual predestined to become fat or lean? 
  • Is heredity sufficient to dictate the condition of a person?
  • What can he do without impairing his health?
  • If the fat plague is contagious at what age is a person most susceptible?
  • Is there racial resistance?  Is there immunity?
  • Is there a cure? Can a vaccine be developed? How soon?
     Obesity cases in the US have doubled since 1980.  Like a tidal wave, obesity has been moving rapidly from the East Coast, sweeping across the continent to the West Coast and up beyond the border with Canada. This condition in not confined in the US. In Europe, UK leads the most number of cases, while India tops the list in Asia.
A Survey of Local Incidence of Obesity

      One can conduct this survey, a kind of baby thesis that a professor would assign his student. The setting could be a church on a Sunday, a school campus, the mall, or on a busy street.  Fold a whole paper into three columns. On the first column write the heading normal, on the middle overweight (approximately 20 percent above normal weight), and on the third obese (30 and above normal weight). Before conducting the survey, make a test run among your friends or relatives.  Be acquainted with the visual signs that differentiate the three categories. Refer to a practical medical book or consult a physician.

      Choose an ideal station and mark, Comelec style, the appropriate classification of each observed individual (sample).  At the end, get the total of each column, and the grand total from the three columns.  Compute using this formula. Divide the total number of each column with the grand total.  By multiplying it with 100 you will get the percentage of each category.

     What is the ratio of normal to overweight? Normal to obese? Overweight to obese?  What does the result of this field survey indicate?   Does the result show similarity with the trend in other countries like the United States, India and Great Britain? If you are going to present this in class or in a scientific meeting, it is recommended that the survey be repeated involving more samples so that the data can be computed statistically. Draw a pie chart or bar graph to visualize the overall result .

“A fat child is a healthy child,” is Wrong 

     By changing our views, we may change our ways.  We still entertain the idea that a fat baby is a healthy baby. Thus we are made to believe in milk and baby foods advertisements, with a fat baby at center stage.  Baby fat, we are advised, will burn during adolescence. It is therefore a good way of rearing a child. Parents suspect that there is something wrong when their children are not fat. It is better to have children who are neither fat nor thin, but this is difficult to measure.  Being fat at an early age may be sign of incipient obesity, so that medical checkup is advised. Obesity is thought as sign of good health, but in fact it may even lead to incorrect diagnosis and late treatment.
     Because of our limited knowledge on the mechanics of metabolism, we do not realize that a person who is active burns calories faster than one who lives a sedentary life.  In the case of the latter, this equation favors the storage of food in the form of fat. Thus he becomes fat, while his active counterpart remains trim, and even skinny. Too much fat is burden to our organs, such as the heart and kidneys, in fact, the whole body. Thus obesity is associated with heart ailment, high blood pressure, kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, allergies, skin diseases, and those who are obese are prone to various infections, from colds to tuberculosis. There is also a higher incidence of cancer among obese.

 Diet and Obesity

     Balanced diet, our doctors and teacher say, is having the right kind and amount of food.  Food is classified into protein, the grow food; carbohydrate, the go food; and minerals and vitamins, the  glow food. Often illustrated into a pyramid to show the approximate amounts of each kind to take, it would be easy to follow a balanced diet formula. But this is easier said than done in modern living, especially in the urban areas. The truth is that we are far from being discriminating when it comes to food.  We have a tendency to overeat, responding more to psychological demand than genuine appetite. The more affluent we are, the more food we take - and more nutritious at that.  It is an indulgence with which our society has evolved in modern times.  

     
Is obesity changing the concept of beauty?

Our omnivorous nature that enhanced our survival as a species has been vastly changed. Fast foods are part of our lives today. Fast foods are everywhere - turo-turo (just point at your choice), dimsum (packed and ready for pickup), ambulant food stands, and the popular food chains of McDonalds, Jollibee, Chow King, KFC and Kenny Rogers, et al. Fast food share the following characteristics:



-         Livestock and poultry dominate the menu list, while fish is rarely served.
-         Servings are large, predisposing customers to overeating.
-         Fat, oil, and dressing elevate cholesterol level.
-         Fruits and vegetables are seldom served, thus fiber, vitamins and minerals are far from adequate to meet body’s need.
-         Heavy use of additives such as preservatives, coloring, flavoring and other condiments, to increase shelf-life and enhance product presentation. There are those harmful to health like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (vetsin). 
-         Imported ingredients dominate local source, especially for meat and baked products. Frozen products (e.g. hamburger) may be weeks or months old.
-         Fast foods do not offer or display any nutrition/dietary guide.  Choice is based on convenience and price – and it is often limited.

      From these observations fast foods are believed to be progenitors of a lifestyle that predisposes us to obesity.

Fatless Fat and Sugarless Sugar

     First we had coffeeless coffee (decaffeinated, 1895) so that one can have as much as seven cups of coffee a day.  Then came sugarless sugar (diet sugar, 1957) that one can have softdrinks any time and eat unlimited sweets as long as they are made with saccharinnutrasweet or aspartame. The newest is fatless fat – fat whose molecules are too large to be absorbed by the villi of the small intestine, and beside it cannot be acted upon by digestive enzyme.

     Fatless fat, called Olestra, is made up of six or more fatty acids attached to a sugar molecule, are much bigger then the triglycerides in normal fat. (Normal fat is made up of three fatty acids arrayed around a molecule of glycerol). The developer, Procter and Gamble, claims that a chocolate cake that used Olestra gives only 163 calories per serving as compared to 235 calories if made with normal fat.  Chocolate ice cream would give only 110 calories instead of 270 calories per serving. Reduction of calories in other food preparations, which include our favorite potato fries, is up to 50 percent. The idea is that people can eat all the food they want without fear of getting fat.  And this is favorable to the food industry. 
     One danger of using Olestra particularly in poor countries is that it will exacerbate malnutrition problem, not only in impeding or reducing the absorption of fat and other nutrients, but that it can even mask the lack or absence of much needed nutrients the body needs.  Vitamins A,D,E and K must be dissolved in fat to be able to enter the bloodstream and reach parts of the body.  
Obesity in chicken 
This is not the case with Olestra.  Because of its giant structure it is not an efficient carrier. It freely moves down the alimentary track and leaks out directly with waste, which is very discomforting.

      On the other hand there is available in the market a drug that is claimed to block the digestion and therefore the absorption of dietary fat – Xenical. Promotions show that taking this drug will result to weight loss from fat but not muscles, and that it even helps reduce the risk of diabetes and hypertension.

Mucilage from Saluyot – Natural Reducer

     I know people who maintain their body weight and keep trim by eating a lot of vegetables and avoiding meat and other fatty food.  Ilocanos for one eat saluyot (Corchorus olitorius), a mucilage-rich leafy vegetable cooked with broth, or simply garnished with garlic and vinegar. (Okra – Abelmoschus esculentus - which belongs to the same family Malvaceae is also rich in mucilage.)

     Mucilage makes a coating like a film over fat molecules, and on the surface of the villi, thus regulating absorption. Together with dietary fiber, it also traps toxin which is otherwise absorbed by the body, while it facilitates release of waste because of its laxative property.  As a rule, absorption and assimilation is directly proportional to the length of food retention in the digestive system.  

Junk Food also Contributes to Obesity

     How about  junk foods? They are so-called because the have practically no nutritional value. Nata de coco is nutritionless save the sugar it is cooked with. Gums, agar, and other colloid carriers (alginate and carageenan) have become popular in many food preparations because they add to the bulk in food, and that it contributes to the sense of fullness. These and many other foods dominate stores and eateries today.
     Ironically these foods do not offer solutions against getting fat or becoming obese. The truth is that the more we eat indiscriminately, the more we have the tendency to get fat.  It is because we simply ignore to account for the accompanying ingredients that may contribute to weight gain.

    When the value of a food we take is unknown we become living garbage bins. This is the source of many ailments. The artificial ingredients and imbalance food value have cause in many people in the US to early Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. Others show symptoms of debilitation which doctors cannot diagnose. Thus people are getting more and more conscious of eating natural foods.    

      It has been observed that in the urban areas, eating out is becoming more and more popular.  At the present trend, the urban dweller will be eating in fast foods more often than he eats in his home. The quaintness of cooking and eating at home with the whole family is a vanishing custom.

     On the other side of the picture, people believe that the younger generation is taller and bigger because they are eating more and better food, richer in protein and fats. This could be one of the factors that have led us to modify our model for health and beauty.

Wrong Models of Fitness

     One proof is that we have grown accustomed to RTWs (ready-to-wear clothes) that do not emphasize good physical features, whereas before  clothes were tailored to fit and enhance body physique. The coca-cola body is no longer a strict measure of sexiness. Consciousness of shape, poise and weight is no longer as strict, so with grooming and body language. RTW hides unsightly bulges and curves, and coupled with modern hairstyles, shoes and body ornaments, even obese people are made attractive of sort.

     The marks of a good body were in well-developed and placed muscles, the likes of Arnold Swharzenegger and Victor Mature, and for women, those of Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak. During our generation, and before, the standards of beauty were the same. But today it is different. There are beauty contests among the obese (e.g. longganisa queen), and beauty contests among the “third sex.”  There is a beauty contest among ginang ng tahanan (Mrs. Housewife). One can only imagine the criteria used judging the winners of these contests.

      One reason why fat people are regarded models to many is that, they look funny, even before they utter a word. In the entertainment world, there are personalities who are popular because of their extraordinary size.  This is not new though. As early as in the 1930’s The Three Stooges, a bunch of funny obese characters, rose to fame. Remember the late flabby Ike Lozada?  Then there are other movie idols like Dely Atayatayan, and Mitch Valdez.  Sumo wrestlers make a rare group with which obesity is looked up to.   Today, there are more and more obese people invading the entertainment world. However with the new findings about the fat plague, apparently their days are counted.

Being Fat is a Liability

     For the 20 percent overweight, there are 25 percent more death for men and 21 percent more death in women than for those of normal weight in the same age group.  For those who are 30 percent overweight, there are 42 percent more death among men and 30 percent more death among women. There may be truth to a statement that people who are twice their normal weights are virtually walking towards their grave. 

      We can imagine an obese strip down at the beach, or ride a bicycle. There are many jokes about obesity.  Don’t hike with an obese too far. Don’t sit beside one at the dining table.  Guess why a car is heavier on one side. There’s a flat tire again. Do you know why transport fares are getting higher? Laki sa kusina kasi, eh. (Referring to one who literally grew up in the kitchen)

      If obesity is contagious, here the is a version of a popular saying, “Tell me if your friend is an obese, and I can already see how you look like.”

     We are creating is a “fourth estate”, a world of the obese.  This means we are going to do a lot of re-designing our articles and facilities of living, from bed to car, clothes to doorway.  There is need to revise policies and conditions of insurance, hospitalization, and funeral services, to name a few.         

Advertisements are misleading and dangerous.

      Take the case of a very young boy, barely of school age, voraciously finishing a whole fried chicken. The advertisement runs counter with values, good nutrition and the kind of economics a country needs. Other than the high food value of chicken that predisposes one to becoming fat, the idea of one child eating a whole chicken is bad economics. For a chicken to gain one-kilogram live weight, it has to feed on 7 to 9 kilos of grain. (Feed to body weight conversion ratio is 8 is to 1, on the average)

       A country like the Philippines which can not produced sufficient grains (staple food) for its population can ill-afford to allow the conversion of precious grains into meat. The child on TV, in effect deprived eight children – especially the poor - from the calories that they badly needed.  Affluence of one is deprivation of another.  This is more so if the affluent is an obese. 

     From this premise a new paradigm emerges, raising a question whether or not obesity is sin.  If this is so, then the atonement for it lies in the very solution to obesity itself – moderation, if not abstinence. For the child on TV, his act shall be regarded as temptation to committing sin, which is naturally abhorred. On the larger scheme there is need to review current economic policies and give a second look at social, theological and philosophical norms and idiosyncrasies.   

      While the new finding continues to shed light to the true nature of obesity, what we can do are the following.

-         Do not pamper your baby or child to becoming fat.

-         Follow a strict regimen of eating food that provides a balanced nutrition.

-         Do not overeat.  Eat on time. Limit snacks, coffee breaks, soft drinks, finger food and sweets.

-         Watch out for your weight.  Keep within your prescribed weight for your height and age. 
-         Do not attempt to lose weight by whatever means without consulting your doctor. Don’t go for liposuction. There are many fatalities resulting from this quick reduction-shape up technique treatment. Operation to shorten the food-assimilating small intestines is not also advisable.
-         Too much TV and computer lead to obesity. It is healthier to be active.  Shake those lazy bones.  Take time out to exercise.
-         Obesity may be caused by hormonal imbalance.  Get early treatment.
-         If you have a history of obesity, there is still chance you do not fall into the same trap. Heredity is just one factor.
-         Change your lifestyle that predisposes you to getting fat.  Be conscious of your shape, poise, and other physical features.
-         Avoid emotional problems that are associated with obesity. See your doctor.  Reflect, meditate, you may need a spiritual adviser, too.

A Damocles sword hangs over millions and millions of people who are potential victims of the obesity. Keep calm.  Let us keep abreast with the developments with hope and prayer that it will not turn out to be a plague or pandemic.  Let us be vigilant at all times.                                                    x       x        x  

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