The Fault In Our Genes
Could your genetics be to blame for your inability to lose fat?
There are typically two camps in this argument:
Camp 1: Being overweight runs in my family; it's genetic.
Camp 2: Being overweight is in your family because nobody runs in your family; it's lifestyle.
There is a gray area between these two but the fact of the matter is both camps are correct to a certain extent. I will explain in both instances how they are both correct to a certain degree and wrap up where my opinion, and research, stands.
Before I dive into all of this, it is important to understand the basics of fat accumulation.
In order to gain weight, we must be in an elevated caloric state where we consume more calories than our bodies can expend over a period of time. For example, if we have a baseline metabolism of 2,500 calories and I consistently eat 3,000 calories over a span of a week, I will gain roughly 1-pound per week. Caloric environment is the main player to weight gain.
Camp 1: Genetics
There has been considerable research produced in this area to provide insight to the obesity epidemic that we are facing today. Yes, there are genetic traits that directly influence obesity but these single-gene mutations, known as monogenetic obesity, are accompanied with other crippling manifestations. For the scope of this conversation, none of us will fall into this category.
What about everybody else? Literature supports various gene variants having implications on obesity termed polygenic, for having multiple gene actions. One of the most prominent findings, the fat-mass and obesity associated gene (FTO), has been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity to those who carry the gene mutation. Carriers of this gene have higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which regulates hunger, circulating in their blood. When ghrelin is high, well food looks like a table full of carbohydrates after a grueling workout. In a normal situation when we are hungry we will see food and our ghrelin levels will go up to signal us to eat. After the meal, we then suppress ghrelin to feel full and satisfied upon eating. Those who have this trait struggle with their eating habits since they simply do not feel satisfied and crave foods more than others.
But guess what?
The literature also supports that eating habits and exercise counteracts these actions by gene variants and weight loss is the by product. What does this mean?
It's all about environment. I will utilize a different scenario to explain why environment is key in regards to genes. It is Summer 2016 and we will see the best athletes around the world participate in the Olympic games which is the display of the world's most absurd genetic adaptations. But none of them would be there without proper training (environment).
Work Ethic, Determination
This illustration plays the same role in the accumulation of fat.
Inactivity and Overeating
Genes, in this case, is a predisposition not a curse. Mind you, if genes were removed from this equation and only factor in 'Inactivity and Overeating" you will still end up with the same result. Obesity promoting genes will just get you there faster.
Camp 2: Lifestyle
Researchers are grasping the genetic underpinnings to obesity and have found links as state above to why certain individuals are more susceptible to gaining weight than others. Genetics do have a role to play, but we can control is what foster the genetic predisposition.
Genetic Predisposition + Active Lifestyle= Healthy Weight
But what does this lifestyle consist of?
1. Consistent exercise. (3-4 days/wk)
2. Tracking calories and eating mindfully. It's not fun but it is essential in controlling what goes into your body.
3. Optimism. Being optimistic about what you do with your body is key to making the appropriate changes.
Incorporating exercise and mindful eating habits will lead you towards a healthy body composition. Movement and optimal food choices does wonders for the body.
Camp 1: You are not slave to your genetics. Yes, you may have to work harder to keep your healthy weight but at the end of the day you have the choice to the type of life you live. Especially if you can read this blog.
Camp 2: You are correct, lifestyle does mitigate the issues that underlie obesity. But we should not chalk up everyone's inability to drop weight to laziness and pure lack of motivation. Instead, we should teach the lifestyle that can promote health in another person's life.
Control what you can control and be optimistic about it. We may not inherit the best athletic genes, but we do have the choice to live a healthy life.
*Note: One of my references stated below is a great resource in understanding this area for future reference. Check the link.
1. Strawbridge RJ, Laumen H, Hamsten A, Breier M, Grallert H, Hauner H, et al. (2016) Effects of Genetic Loci Associated with Central Obesity on Adipocyte Lipolysis. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153990. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153990
2. Obesity-Promoting genes in an obesity-promoting world. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/genes-and-obesity/
3. Pereira PA, Alvim-Soares AM, Sandrim VC, Lanna CM, Souza-Costa DC, Belo VA, et al. Lack of association between genetic polymorphism of FTO, AKT1 and AKTIP in childhood overweight and obesity. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jped.2015.12.007
4. Rao, K. R., Lal, N., & Giridharan, N. V. (2014). Genetic & epigenetic approach to human obesity. Indian Journal Of Medical Research, 140589-603.
5. Vimaleswaran, K. S., Bodhini, D., Lakshmipriya, N., Ramya, K., Anjana, R. M., Sudha, V., & ... Radha, V. (2016). Interaction between FTO gene variants and lifestyle factors on metabolic traits in an Asian Indian population. Nutrition & Metabolism, 131-10. doi:10.1186/s12986-016-0098-6
6. Karra, E., O’Daly, O. G., Choudhury, A. I., Yousseif, A., Millership, S., Neary, M. T., . . . Batterham, R. L. (2013). A link between FTO, ghrelin, and impaired brain food-cue responsivity. Journal of Clinical Investigation J. Clin. Invest., 123(8), 3539-3551. doi:10.1172/jci44403