Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have found several species of bacteria that are associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
"We identified 26 species of bacteria that were correlated with obesity and metabolic syndrome traits such as body mass index (BMI), triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose levels and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation," senior author, Claire M Fraser said.
"We can't infer cause and effect, but it's an important step forward that we're starting to identify bacteria that are correlated with clinical parameters, which suggests that the gut microbiota could one day be targeted with medication, diet or lifestyle changes," Fraser said in a statement.
The research team also found an apparent link between the gut bacteria and inflammation, which is believed to be a factor in obesity and many other chronic diseases.
They noted that participants with metabolic syndrome who had elevated serum markers associated with inflammation tended to have the lowest levels of good bacteria that is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
The researchers analysed the bacteria in fecal samples of 310 members of the Old Order Amish community, using a process that enables them to identify a marker gene that serves as a bar code for each type of bacteria.
Participants in the study ranged from lean to overweight to obese; some of the obese participants also had features of the metabolic syndrome.
They discovered that every individual possessed one of three different communities of interacting bacteria, each characterised by a dominant bacterial genus.
Neither BMI nor any metabolic syndrome trait was specifically associated with any of these communities.
Instead, differing levels of 26 less abundant bacterial species present in all individuals appeared to be linked to obesity and certain features of the metabolic syndrome.
The study was published in PLOS ONE journal.