Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Could orangutans help scientists understand human obesity?

Indonesian orangutans may help scientists understand the underlying reasons for eating disorders and obesity in humans, according to new research from an evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University.

Erin Vogel, who recently published the results of her five-year study in the journal Biology Letters, looked at how orangutans survived during times of extreme food scarcity. The extensive research is the first time a scientist has explored the relationship between the apes and their protein deprivation, according to a news release from Rutgers.

“There is such a large obesity epidemic today and yet we don’t really understand the basis of the obesity condition or how these high-protein or low-protein diets work,” Vogel said. “I think studying the diets of some of our closest living relatives, the great apes, may help us understand issues with our own modern-day diets.”

In her field studies, Vogel observed that the orangutans added extra pounds only during periods of high caloric and protein intake. “The orangutans put on fat when caloric intake is greatest, and this also coincides with a period of high protein in the diet,” Vogel wrote in an e-mail to New Jersey Newsroom. “What (our) study does is demonstrate that when caloric intake is high, orangutans are able to store fat due to excess calories in their diet.”

When the calorie levels dropped, the apes started burning their stored fat and breaking down muscle tissue. “For orangutans, it is caloric intake, not necessarily the amount of carbohydrates or protein or fat, that seems to be most important for weight gain or weight loss,” she continued.

Vogel, an assistant professor of anthropology at the School of Arts and Sciences, gathered the data for her study by examining urinary metabolites and nitrogen stable isotopes.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Could orangutans help scientists understand human obesity?

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