Feed a fever, starve a cold… gain a few pounds? New research from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, published in the journal Pediatrics, sheds new light on the possible relationship between obesity and the common cold.
This small study of 124 kids tested for antibodies to a particular form of adenovirus, which can cause colds and diarrhea. Fifteen percent of the kids had antibodies to the virus, suggested that they had been exposed to it previously. But the interesting thing was that, on average, kids who tested positive for the virus were fifty pounds heavier than kids who had not gotten this strain of the common cold. And even when the obese kids were studied separately, the antibody-positive group was 35 pounds heavier than the obese children who had not been exposed to the virus.
So it appears as though there may be a link between infection with a cold virus and obesity. Now what? Do we steer our efforts away from diet and exercise and more toward hand washing and vaccine development?
Not so fast, although it’s an intriguing new direction. Healthy lifestyle choices and education are the best tools we currently have to prevent obesity in our kids — and ourselves, for that matter. But research like this continues to flush out the role that inflammation can have in disease processes and, potentially, disease management.
Years ago, we started thinking about cardiovascular disease in a similar way. We knew that cholesterol-rich plaque deposited in blood vessel walls was ultimately responsible for heart attacks, but we still didn’t understand how it got there. People latched onto diet as one modifiable contributor — hence recommendations to eat more fish and less saturated fat.
But our understanding has evolved to a point where we recognize that inflammation has a critical role in determining who gets atherosclerosis. At one point, we even identified a higher prevalence of anti-chlamydial antibodies in individuals with heart disease. This led to studies of using antibiotics as a possible preventive measure, but unfortunately it didn’t really work. But the concept of inflammation continues to guide future research, and has even steered our thinking regarding how diet may be playing a role.
Understanding inflammation will likely be one of the keys to understand heart disease, and how it can be prevented. It’s fascinating to think that childhood obesity — and possibly other chronic disease processes — will fall under a similar umbrella. Speaking of umbrellas, it may turn out that walking outdoors with wet hair is worse for you than we thought.
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