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Gut bacteria may be linked to obesity in peri- and post-menopausal women

March 21, 2017   /   by Jamie Rogers

Cara Frankenfeld


Extra pounds on peri- and post-menopausal women may be connected to gut bacteria living in the intestinal tract, according to a recently released study co-authored by a George Mason University alumna and professor.

“Gut bacteria profiles are incredibly complicated and very diverse across people,” said Cara Frankenfeld, a global and community health professor at George Mason.

Women whose gut microbial communities can’t turn daidzein, a compound found in soy, into something called O-desmethylangolensin are more likely to be overweight, according to a study published in Maturitas.

Daidzein has been of some interest to scientists for a while because it is structurally similar to estrogen and can possibly elicit weak estrogen-like responses in peri- and post-menopausal women who tend to have lower estrogen levels, Frankenfeld said.

There are subsets of the population who don’t produce certain compounds, in this case, ODMA.

“We can tell something about people’s gut bacteria based on the presence or absence of these compounds,” she said.

The idea is that certain gut bacteria profiles are associated with certain health outcomes. Peri- and post-menopausal women who have a profile that can’t produce ODMA are in a group that’s more obese, Frankenfeld said.

The cross-sectional study examined 137 peri-menopausal and 218 post-menopausal women who consumed at least three servings of soy per week. They were identified as ODMA producers or nonproducers through urine samples.

Studies have examined other age groups, but the results vary, Frankenfeld said, so it may be an age group or a hormonal status-specific condition.

It could be that producers of ODMA may be more at risk for other conditions, she said, but researchers aren’t yet able to make recommendations to women who may fall within this group.

“We wouldn’t want people to try and become producers [of ODMA],” Frankenfeld said.

Scientists do know there is an obesity­–gut bacteria relationship, she said, but more research is needed to fully understand whether and how gut bacteria influence obesity, or whether it is vice versa, or both.