Is Your Weight in Your Genes or Your Jeans?

In Dr. Karen M. Pendleton, Health and Beauty by Lola Magazine

There are literally thousands of diets.

Some are for losing weight, while others are for gaining weight, lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar, controlling blood pressure, living a long and healthful life, and many other reasons.

A diet is best described as a fixed plan of eating and drinking where the type and amount of food is planned out in order to achieve weight loss or follow a particular lifestyle.  Personally, I don’t believe in diets because in most cases, diets are NOT sustainable.  I support health dietary lifestyles that incorporate clean, fresh, seasonal, nutrient-dense, whole superfoods, supplementation with optimal (not “fairy-dusted” RDA) ingredient levels of nutraceuticals/supplements, and body movement.

If you are following any of the aforementioned diets, let’s talk.  Have you ever wondered why certain diets work for some but not all people?  There is a scientific rationale.  Guess what?  It may absolutely be influenced by your genes, i.e., your genetic markers.  Are you familiar with this alphabet soup of genes?  FTO, PPRA, UCP2, UCP3, APOA2, APOA5, CLOCK, PPARG and VDR.  Are you ready to become enlightened?  I certainly was when I had an opportunity to be tested.  Like me, with these genetic markers you will be able to understand the concept that genes only contribute 20 percent and environment (choices we make) 80 percent to diseases/disorders, i.e., weight issues.

FTO is the gene for appetite.  Among recently identified obesity-susceptibility genes, there is one gene that has a particularly strong association: FTO.  For this reason, the FTO gene is often dubbed “the obesity gene.”  Research suggests that carriers of a particular version (A allele) of the FTO gene are biologically hardwired to eat more, feel hungrier sooner and be more responsive to fatty foods.  Individuals carrying the A allele have a natural tendency to want to eat more. They have higher levels of the “hunger hormone” Ghrelin in their system, meaning they are likely to feel hungrier, especially after a meal.  Studies also show that their brains respond differently to Ghrelin and to the sight of food, leading to an increased appetite.

If you carry just one copy of the A allele, you are 1.3 times more likely to be obese. If you carry two A alleles, you are roughly 1.6 times more likely to be obese.

PPARA is the gene for fat burning.  The ability to use fat as fuel combined with the distribution of fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers are important factors affecting endurance.  As PPARA turns on genes that shift metabolism from carbohydrate burning to fat, this genotype is perfect for those undertaking endurance-oriented activities.  However, multiple studies have shown that continuous bouts of endurance training can boost our PPARA levels (and hence our ability to burn fat) regardless of our genotype.  The processes of lipid oxidation in the liver and ketosis are important adaptive responses during the fasted state to provide the required energy for the tissues and allow for weight reductions.

UCP2 is one of the genes for metabolism.  Having a high metabolic rate results in more calories burned in a given time period, particularly if combined with exercise.  This process can and does occur during sleep.  Those individuals with the better variant of the UCP2 gene are provided with a reduced risk of obesity and weight gain. This is particularly so with a healthy level of physical activity.  In addition, studies have shown that there is a lower incidence of Type-II Diabetes and insulin resistance in people with the better variant of the UCP2 gene.  Bottomline,  UCP2 is one of the regulators of insulin secretion.  Remember, not only does insulin influence our blood glucose levels but insulin also signals the body to store fat.

UCP3 is another one of the genes for metabolism.  UCP3 is mainly expressed in skeletal muscles and is involved in fatty acid metabolism and protecting cells from oxidative damage, i.e., “rusting” or aging.

Both UCP2 and UCP3 are involved in the regulation of free radical levels in cells, play a role in metabolic rate and possibly basal thermogenesis.  FYI: Basal thermogenesis or basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy per unit time that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest.

APOA2 is the gene for response to saturated fat intake.  A variation in this gene has been associated with a larger response to saturated fat intake and obesity.  The key is to incorporate a diet of low saturated fats.

APOA5 is the gene for blood triglycerides.  Those with lower levels of the APOA5 molecule have an increased risk of high triglyceride levels in the bloodstream when consuming a high polyunsaturated fat diet.

CLOCK is the gene affecting sleep cycle or the circadian clock.  Our biological clock regulates the timing of sleep and a number of physiological processes fundamental to health, performance and well-being.  Additionally, this gene has an effect on muscle recovery and weight loss goals.  Possessing the better variant of the CLOCK gene relates to a lower risk of obesity and an easier time losing weight.

A recent study suggests that toxins build up during the day and sleep is critical to removing these from the brain via detoxification by the liver and kidneys.  Sleep is also important in muscle building and recovery.  Recall that the body releases growth hormones during REM sleep.

Here are some timing points of reference.  High alertness occurs at about 10 a.m., with best coordination at around 2 p.m. and fastest reaction time at 3 p.m. Greatest muscle strength occurs at around 5 p.m., and Melatonin (a hormone associated with sleep onset) secretion begins at 9 p.m.

PPARG is the gene associated with fat and carbohydrate processing.  Carriers of the better variant of the PPARG gene seem to be at a lower risk of obesity-related features such as poor glycemic control.

VDR is a gene for Vitamin D processing/activation.  Sufficient Vitamin D influences immunity, bone health, skeletal muscle strength and hormone levels.  Research shows that Vitamin D levels significantly affect physical function, especially in the elderly. One study revealed that test subjects over 65 years of age, with lower Vitamin D had poorer physical functioning and greater disability. Additionally, ideal Vitamin D levels (50 – 80 ng/mL) can decrease the risk of breast cancer in women; prostate cancer in men; and colon cancer in both genders.  And, there is a strong association of ideal Vitamin D levels with weight loss and maintenance.

So, in summary, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up obese if you carry the less than favorable variant of these above discussed genes, particularly the FTO gene.  How you eat and how you exercise (in short, your lifestyle) plays an important intermediary role between your genetic make-up and your ultimate bodyweight.  With variations in our genes, we each respond differently to diet and exercise, thus, it is possible to tailor nutrition and workout plans that account for these genetic variations.

By understanding how your body metabolizes macronutrients, i.e., carbs, fats and protein, consider investigating these specific discussed genes (and Vitamin D); and genetically optimized dietary lifestyle plans.  Previously, a lot of these decisions would have been based on guesswork.  Armed with this knowledge, people are learning about their own internal physiology and, in doing so, are empowered to make the dietary and training decisions best suited to them.  These plans can offer you the lean, healthy physique you desire while maintaining balanced hormonal health.

In closing…know your alphabets!!!  Be proactive by aligning yourself with a knowledgeable healthcare provider offering this comprehensive testing.

Written by Dr. Karen Pendelton

Co-Founder/CEO of the concierge Lifestyle Medicine practice: Pair O’ Docs Bio-Rejuvenis.

Affiliate, FitnessGenes Pro

Earned Doctor of Medicine degree from Tulane University School of Medicine; and completed Ophthalmology Residency and Fellowship training in Cornea and Refractive Surgery at the LSU Eye Center, both institutes in New Orleans, LA.

Received continuing education from Tulane’s Institute for Culinary Medicine and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Passion is for patient education at the individual and community levels.

Take a comprehensive approach to patient care, concentrating on the management of metabolic and hormonal imbalances; correction of nutritional deficits; and tailoring exercise physiology.

Encourage each patient, their families and our communities to achieve health, personal fulfillment and the goal-attainment of “Be Healthy…Look Better…Perform Well.