We all learned in high school biology that your DNA determines your hair color, nose shape and eye color, but what do we know about the role genetics play in our weight loss goals?
We like to say that the key to good health and managing your weight is not a one-size-fits-all approach, because we all have different genetic makeups and each of our bodies responds differently to certain diets and foods. A study by the Harvard Health School found that each person’s genes have a different degree of influence on their weight; for example, some people’s genetics are responsible for 25% of their weight gain and loss, while others may be responsible for as much as 80%. But even with all the control your genes have over your weight, there’s still a chance to beat the odds with a healthy lifestyle.
Is There a Fat Gene?
Genes are the basic physical and functional units of heredity, or what is inherited from families. They consist of DNA and vary in size from a few hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases! The Human Genome Project estimates that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
Each person has two copies of each gene, inheriting one from each parent. Most genes are the same in all people, but a small number of genes (less than 1% of the total) differ slightly from person to person. Although these differences may be small, the genetic makeup is responsible for each person’s unique characteristics.
But no single gene is responsible for determining body weight. In fact, more than 400 genes have been identified! Most of the evidence lies in mutations in genes associated with hormones such as leptin, gastrin, adiponectin and neuropeptide Y, which are known to influence appetite control and metabolism.
Which Genes Contribute to Managing Your Weight?
1. FTO —A protein associated with fat mass and obesity is found on chromosome 16. The presence of this gene has been shown to be directly linked to obese people, as those with this gene have a 30% higher chance of being overweight.
2. MC4R—The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) gene is a known contributor to human metabolism. This gene controls how much energy we use from what we eat and contributes to our feelings of hunger. Some people have rare variants of this gene and are slightly more likely to be overweight.
3. Ankyrin-B—Ankyrin-B is known to cause obesity in its variant form, which causes an increased rate of glucose uptake by fat cells, thus greatly increasing their size.
4. Panx1—Also known as Pannexin 1, it is a gene that regulates obesity and fat accumulation. The presence of this gene is associated with a high risk of obesity.
5. IRX3—The iroquois homeobox gene 3 (IRX3) is a gene that may contribute to difficulties in weight loss. It was found that people with insufficient expression of these genetics showed a 30% weight loss.
How to Stay in Shape Despite Genetics?
At the top of the list, of course, is exercise. However, our technology-centric society, with all of its modern conveniences, presents challenges for people to get up and go. It is recommended that you do at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Regular, consistent exercise is very important. Some studies have shown that even 30 minutes of gardening a day can improve health.
There are other things people can do to control their weight besides exercise. People are advised to avoid phthalates because of concerns that it may increase the risk of weight gain. It is also recommended to increase daily fluid intake to 3.2 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women and to increase fiber to help make you feel full and [it] also provides probiotics that benefit the gut microbiome, which may also affect weight.
When you need help, find a medical professional and try to keep a food diary. You can look for a doctor who is trained in obesity medicine or specializes in weight loss. There are several medications currently in clinical trials that are promising for overweight/obese patients in ways we couldn’t have imagined even five years ago.
Obesity is a disease and those who struggle with it shouldn’t be blamed. It should be treated as seriously as any other potentially progressive disease. Also, discuss with your doctor the hormones that may affect your weight, such as thyroid, low testosterone and estrogen dominant patients.
Even though studies have shown that weight has a genetic component, a healthy lifestyle isn’t something you can’t control. People can control their environment to some extent and recognize what they are putting into their bodies. Several studies have shown that exercise coupled with lifestyle and diet modifications will help, and keep the weight off.