Which Genes in Our DNA Affect Weight Issues?

July 2, 2009 · 2 comments

This is a guest post by Dena White.

Studies are currently underway to establish which genes are responsible for how our bodies process fat and nutrients. The main focus is determining if obesity is in fact genetic, or if lifestyle plays a larger role.

Genetic Consistency
For thousands of years, human genetics have stayed pretty much the same. However, within the last few decades, obesity has increased exponentially, causing problems such as metabolic syndrome, which could lead to diabetes and heart disease. Even some individuals are genetically prone to be overweight; the steady increase in obesity signifies that genetics is not the only player on the field.

In fact, genetics can actually be steered in the direction of obesity, but is guided by what is known as epigenetics, which are specific environmental and behavioral influences that tell the genes what they are supposed to do. The epigenetics are greatly influenced by nutritional intake. This includes eating too much, or not enough of the right nutrients.

Uniquely Human
When each of us is born, we have a unique set of genes that is referred to as our genome, which is our hardwired DNA. These genes just lie around waiting to see if they are activated or not, depending on the tagging systems that are resting on the top of our genes, known as the epigenome. Our epigenetics and genes are sort of like a computer and software. The genes work as the hard drive, while the epigenetics work as the software that tells the hard drive what it is supposed to be doing.

The chemical epigenome tags are known as methyl groups, which come from the food that we eat. Our environment and several other influences from food intensely affect the tagging of our epigenetics as well. To put it another way, the epigenetic tag system guiding the genes is greatly influenced by nutritional intake, as well as other factors.

New Weight-Related Research
Methyl groups have a number of positive effects, such as protecting us against many different kinds of cancer. In lab mice, a significant impact on weight has been noted. Innovative research in lab mice with the overeating gene, the Agouti gene, determined that mice that were given a methyl group that contained nutrients such as choline, betaine, folic acid and vitamin B12 produced leaner, healthier offspring who seemed to have a longer lifespan. Mice that were not given the supplement became resistant to insulin, obese, prone to cancer and did not live as long.

Surprisingly, the obesity or anti-obesity epigenome effects were passed down to the offspring, continuing through to successive generations. Experts noticed that the Agouti gene showed no changes; it was expressed or not depending on the DNA methylation.

Still In Control
It is true that there are genes that have the power to bless us with thunder thighs or bubble buns, but we have the power to keep these genes dormant. As long as we eat right and exercise on a regular basis, we are able to fight back against the genes in our DNA that affect our weight.

Studies continue on the effects that DNA and nutrition have on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as how these effects are passed to our children and grandchildren.

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julie July 2, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I’ll buy the concept of epigenetics, as that seems to make a lot of sense, but these methyl groups as tags, maybe my organic chemistry background is interfering, but I’m trying to picture these tiny little methyl groups attaching onto the DNA and influencing its replication and/or expression. I do have a better understanding of o-chem than genetics, so I don’t know of what I speak.

CraigB - Fatblastzone July 3, 2009 at 7:41 am

Wow, this is deep. I agree that we have the power to fight back with eating right and exercising. However, the problem is that some of us begin fighting back too late. We take notice after we’ve already developed bad habits in relation to the foods we choose eat and our exercise frequency. The earlier you start in life, the more victorious you’ll be in the battle. Hopefully, we’ll take what we’ve learned and instill those things into our kids. If you know you have these genes, help your kids by establishing a strong foundation for healthy living while they are young so they won’t struggle as much as you. And be a positive role model that doesn’t obsess about food and weight, but who is disciplined and exercises self-control.

that’s my rant for the day…

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