The Obesity Virus?! ... and a cure?

According to a number of studies (and news stories floating around the internet), at least 30% of obesity cases could be caused by adenoviruses.


What's an Adenovirus?

It's one of a set of viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms. These include the influenzas (the flu), the rhinoviruses, and adenoviruses.

Symptoms include:

  • common cold
  • conjunctivitis (an infection in the eye)
  • croup
  • bronchitis
  • pneumonia
  • dry eyes
  • ... and apparently, obesity.


OK, so why does it cause obesity?

Apparently it causes fat tissue stem cells to become full-blown fat cells, and encourages them to accumulate fat.

That's in addition to giving you a runny nose.

What's the Evidence?

Mostly this is from chickens, marmosets and mice, where there's direct experimental evidence that it increases fatty tissue build-up. In humans, when markers for specific adenovirus types (there are 51 adenoviridae known to infect humans; 5 of which appear to cause the effect), 30% of obese people have antibodies to the viruses. And a few people who aren't obese have them too, but it's not clear why they don't develop symptoms. It's probably genetic.

The recent paper in the research journal Obesity (A Human Adenovirus Enhances Preadipocyte Differentiation - Sharada D. Vangipuram, Jonathan Sheele, Richard L. Atkinson, Thomas C. Holland and Nikhil V. Dhurandhar), shows explicitly that if you take Adenovirus type 36, and give it something to grow in, it'll create fatty tissue as fast as it can. And the cells express a gene from the virus itself, so it may be acting as a retrovirus.

If you use Adenovirus type 2, the same isn't seen. No effects whatsoever.

So What's the Cure?

Well... step 1 - get rid of the virus. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer. Use a goddamn handkerchief people - I find it amazing the number of people who will happily cough and sneeze all over their coworkers and the room. The virus can live for a few days outside of the body in aerosol, and tests with dye show that if you don't use a hanky, you're going to get that stuff EVERYWHERE in short order. And that's how it replicates. (It's also how entire offices get sick for months at a time in this day and age).

Show some common decency - use a handkerchief!

Just in case you'd forgotten what these things look like... see above.

As for step 2 - what do you do to help get rid of the virus?

Here's my recommendation. Note: I'm not a doctor. I just read a lot. Take this advice at YOUR OWN risk.

Well, a start might be to take Omega-3 fatty acids. They've been shown to reduce the ability for viral capsids to cross the cytosome by modifying the structure of the lipid raft. (You should do this anyway, if you fancy your chances at living past 50 - it'll help with heart disease - but don't take too much, as studies are showing that they can slightly depress your immune response by down-regulating inflammation).

Another trick - Green Tea. Down that stuff in huge quantities. Even better, take EGCg - a green tea extract - one paper shows that adenovirus infection is inhibited by this substance. (Link to paper here).

By the way, adding milk or cream massively decreases the beneficial effects of green tea...

Of course, the old standbys - lemon juice, ginger, cayenne pepper, honey and garlic can't hurt either. And if you make a nice drink of hot water, lemon juice, ginger, honey and a splash of cayenne, it'll clear your sinuses pretty nicely too and make you feel better.

Now... Here's the fun part. I did a little research which led to a paper on AMPK expression in fat cell apoptosis & metabolism. The research is actually aimed at coming up with a drug that works for fat loss.

The great thing about this research, is that they've got a nutritional approach that they're trying to replicate in a drug.

Which means, dear reader, that you might actually get somewhere yourself if you just go the nutritional route.

A Nutritional Approach to Fat Loss

The paper I'm talking about is here: Genistein, EGCG, and capsaicin inhibit adipocyte differentiation process via activating AMP-activated protein kinase - HWANG Jin-Taek ; PARK In-Ja ; SHIN Jang-In ; YUN KYOUNG LEE ; SEONG KYU LEE ; HAING WOON BAIK ; HA Joohun ; OCK JIN PARK.

So what does this mean?

Well, they did some research and found out that Genistein (a derivative of soybeans), EGCG (a green-tea extract), and Capsaicin (something found in hot chillis and cayenne pepper) will encourage fat cells not only to not be formed in the first place, but also to encourage them to release their fat stores and kill themselves.

Cayenne Peppers
Mmmm... I once ate one of these as a dare. I hate you at times, Mr. Beynon ;-)

This is good news for anyone trying to lose weight - one problem with weight gain is, once you have the fat, your body has created new fat cells to store it. (And this is also how the adenoviridae are doing their magic obesity trick - they're creating new fat cells - your body just goes ahead and fills them up). Because you've still got those (empty) fat cells even after losing weight, one ice-cream too many, and you're stashing away all that fat in those hungry adipocytes which are ready and waiting - like a squirrel stashing away nuts for winter.

So while these guys are theoretically working on a drug to do this faster, better and stronger, you can add the following substances to your diet and get some of the effect.

You can find Genistine (note: it's a phytoestrogen, so it may have adverse side effects in men) in your local supplement store. Or, if you want to avoid extracts, eat more soy beans. That edamame? It's good for you.

You can find EGCg in green tea - so drink more of it, or buy the extract.

Capsaicin? Eat more hot & spicy foods. Or alternatively, you can get Cayenne extract in the supplement section too. You'll find it in the "Ayurvedic" section, where it's used in Indian medicine. Note: I do not know if the so-called "cool cayenne" variety has the same effects.

A couple more things worth adding? Omega-3 fatty acids (you should be taking these anyway), and Niacin - in Nicotinic acid form. Niacin helps with fat metabolism and cholesterol regulation, which if you're going down this path, you're going to want to do.

Dosages? I'm sorry, but you're going to have to figure that out by yourself. Please don't take too much, maybe just stick to the recommendation on the bottle.


So I'm going to give this a shot. Tomorrow, I take a baseline weight, and start doing this once a day. I'll report back with the results.

Oh yeah... and the Niacin story I promised? It's coming. I've got 4 or 5 queued up ready to roll just as soon as I finish my research. Consider this a bit of a teaser.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

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Anonymous wrote on Wednesday, October 13, 2010:

The obesity virus is a confirmed fact. It has recently been documented by a major science publication (Science News) which is a recognized authority on many scientific topics.

Anonymous wrote on Thursday, October 14, 2010:

Did it work?

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