Same Virus: More Fat, Less Blood Sugar


By Valinda Huckabay

There is a virus that causes fat cell growth while at the same time keeping blood sugar and insulin at healthy levels. This means that, although you would carry more body fat, you would be less likely to become diabetic.


Adenoviruses cause acute upper respiratory tract and other mild infections. Adenovirus 36 (also known as AD-36A) is one of 52 adenoviruses known to infect humans. It was first isolated in 1978, and has long been recognized as a cause of respiratory and eye infections.

The term "infectobesity" refers to weight gain that is caused by some kind of infectious origin, such as a virus. The term was coined in 2001 by Dr. Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. There is an emerging field of medical research that is studying the relationship between pathogens (disease-causing organisms such as viruses) and weight gain. A positive correlation has been established between body fat and the presence of AD-36 antibodies in the blood.

Dr. Dhurandhar and his colleagues examined the effects of AD-36 on humans over a 10-year period. Individuals naturally infected with AD-36 acquired a higher body mass index and body fat percentage than those who were not infected, but surprisingly, their blood sugar and insulin levels were healthier.

Diabetes Treatment 

Animal and cell studies offer an explanation, says Dhurandhar. Under normal circumstances, the number of fat cells stays constant in a human adult, regardless of the dietary choices the person makes. Even though AD-36 increases the number and size of fat cells (adipocytes), these additional "fat depots" store more fat coming from excessive calorie consumption. Because of the extra fat storage caused by the AD-36 virus, less fat ends up traveling to other areas like the liver, where it can have toxic effects. But the adipocytes also store more sugar, helping to keep blood sugar levels lower, which reduces the risk of contracting diabetes.

U.S. obesity and diabetes rates are projected to reach 60 percent and 30 percent of the American population, respectively, by 2030. Dhurandhar thinks AD-36 may ultimately lead to a safer and more effective drug therapy for diabetes. "Can we bypass the whole issue about your weight loss and can we still give you metabolic benefits?" asks Dhurandhar. "In theory, at least, it may be possible."

Classroom Discussion

  • Would you rather be thin and have diabetes, or have more body fat and be free from diabetes?
  • Do you think they will develop a vaccine for AD-36?